It’s August in the Midwest and the sun is finally setting, providing some relief from the heat and humidity. The marching band has been waiting patiently for halftime while fully suited in their maroon, black and white 100% polyester uniforms. Blending in with his bandmates as they prepare to take their place on the field, one percussionist is flanked by buddies equipped with 18-pound snare drums around their necks, only adding to the heat the evening is providing all on its own. The crowd, waiting in anticipation, is unaware that this drummer has memorized every piece of music he is about to perform and his muscles have committed to memory every movement he is going to make for the next fifteen minutes.
DIVERSITY: the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.
The Rockridge High School community has embraced the diversity that Gabe Stanforth represents. As a student with a physical impairment, Gabe is a part of a culture of disability which is rarely represented in high school performing arts and athletic programs. As Gabe will attest, inclusion of students with disabilities as a means to increase diversity is not an individual action, but a community commitment.
Gabe, who was born with cataracts in both eyes and a rare condition known as aniridia, in which neither eye has an iris, has overcome his vision impairment to become an elite musician, scholar and contributing community member. While Gabe has had the motivation and work ethic to excel in every facet of high school, it has been his teachers, coaches, school administrators and family who have fostered the safe and inclusive environment in which Gabe has had the opportunity to share his talents with the community of Taylor Ridge, Illinois.
DIVERSITY: the quality of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.
Gabe’s interests and activities epitomize this second meaning of the word diversity. While it requires a community to cultivate the first definition of diversity, it has taken only one student to demonstrate his own diversity through his success in the performing arts. Gabe has not just participated, but has been a prominent member of the Rockridge High School marching band, concert band, pep band, jazz band, show choir, scholastic bowl, show choir band, cross country team, track and field team and student council.
The accolades that have been bestowed upon Gabe for his musical, academic and athletic accomplishments are numerous. As the Section 4 recipient of the NFHS National High School Heart of the Arts Award, Gabe represents the diversity of culture and interests that high school athletics and activities provides to students on a daily basis.
For Gabe, sitting in the seats was never a realistic option. His calling was to share his diversity with his community under the bright lights of the Rockridge High School stage or on the football field at halftime on a hot, humid August evening in Illinois.
Lindsey Atkinson is a coordinator of sports, tennis liaison and a member of the inclusion staff for the NFHS.