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Making the Move from Sidelines to Game Time: Kentucky's Willie Burton

By Lindsey Atkinson on March 15, 2016 Students with Disabilities

High School sports present opportunities for failure, resilience, growth, compassion, success and so much more.  Willie Burton’s story encompasses them all and proves that these opportunities are not reserved for only able-bodied students.  Willie made the move from sidelines to game time.

Willie is a graduate of Fairdale High School in Louisville, Kentucky and the 2015 Section 2 recipient of the NFHS National High School Spirit of Sport Award.  His competitive spirit runs so deep that most people, given Willie’s circumstances, would have quit the sport of wrestling long before he ever got his first and only win.  With legs that could not support his body, a right arm not fully functional and speech limitations as a result of cerebral palsy, Willie fought for four years right alongside his teammates for that ever elusive victory that kept pulling him back to the mat despite defeat after defeat.  FAILURE and RESILIENCE

Year after year, match after match, bus ride after bus ride, Willie and his teammates gained strength as together they physically lifted Willie from bus to chair to mat and back.  As Willie gained strength by working out with his able bodied teammates, his teammates gained strength from watching Willie battle every day through his failing legs, weak arm and slurred speech.  GROWTH and COMPASSION

In Willie’s senior year, his second to last match, something new happened.  Something that he had been training for, his teammates had been hoping for, and his parents had dreamed of…he won.  SUCCESS

All of those long hours spent on the track, in the weight room and on the mats had finally paid off.  As the Fairdale High School Wrestling team piled onto the mat in celebration, it seemed as though Willie’s victory was their victory.  Fairdale High School won that day.  The coaching staff, Willie’s teammates and parents, and even the official raising Willie’s hand won that day.  One athlete’s willingness to experience failure after failure, find the resilience to keep getting up, create opportunities for both physical and emotional growth, and teach an entire community about compassion for all abilities resulted in a success much greater than a winning record. 

This is why we play, we coach, we officiate, we watch.  Congratulations to Willie Burton, his teammates, his coaches, his parents, and the community of Fairdale High School.

Here is the link to ESPN’s E:60 Story WILLPower: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11792437