High school athletics are an important part of the educational experience for students.  In addition to the time-honored values of competition and hard work, sports programs help instill values of team spirit and collaboration in the participating young people.  The news is filled with stories of teams rising up against the odds to achieve success on the field, but just as often, sports teams do special things that go way beyond the games themselves.

In Birmingham, Alabama, the Oak Mountain High School soccer team experienced back-to-back championship seasons in 2015 and 2016. The Eagles were Alabama state champions, and the team took their legacy very seriously.  USA Today and the NSCAA Super 25 Spring Boys National Poll selected the Oak Mountain Eagles as the nation’s leading team.  In September, the team’s championship rings arrived, and the players decided to do something very special to celebrate the moment.

The plan revolved around Chandler Herrero, the team’s manager.  Chandler is 18 and is a special-needs student with Down’s syndrome.  His unwavering support of the team and his hard work was deserving of true recognition.  The Eagles soccer players organized an impromptu ceremony to thank Chandler for everything he has done for the team, and they approached the team’s coach for his help.  In his classroom, Coach Daniel DeMasters and the rest of the team presented Chandler with his own championship ring.  Chandler’s mother, the soccer team, and the school’s special education teachers were in attendance at the ceremony.

The room erupted into cheers and tears of joy as senior soccer player Michael Reeder presented Chandler with the ring, removing it from its box and slipping it onto Chandler’s finger.  Players agreed that Chandler deserved this recognition as much as anyone else on the team; he had been working with the team for three years and was instrumental in helping prepare the team to earn its state two championships. He has attended every game and every training session and even wears a special “23” jersey on the sidelines.

Chandler’s teachers and parents say that he hasn’t taken the ring off since it was presented to him. The ring itself is studded with glittering stones surrounding the team’s Eagle logo and the words “National Champions”.

This selfless act demonstrates the beauty and power of high school sports programs.  The values students learn there will carry them toward success for the rest of their lives, and special acts like Chandler’s state championship ring help cement the Oak Mountain soccer team’s legacy as a proud, dedicated, and caring group of young men.

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