There were too many broken hearts to count as sports leagues began canceling or postponing their seasons in March. From senior athletes to long-time fans, there was no shortage of longing for games of all kinds. Ethan Gray took it particularly hard.
Gray is a 29-year old graduate of T.C. Roberson's Progressive Education Program. Born with Down Syndrome, he attended Roberson until 2013 but stayed on as the baseball team manager. "He loves TC baseball," acknowledged Andrew Hester, who played on the Rams JV team in 2019. "It's always been his thing."
So when COVID-19 forced much of the country into their homes, it was an especially tough adjustment for Gray. "He's so social. Every day of the week he's out volunteering in the community, being on the ball field, just being in this community," explained his mother, Dana Hartis. "Then all of sudden that stopped. He had some sad days, some confused days."
The days began to get better when some familiar faces started coming around. Hester and former Roberson softball standout Hayley Morrow would come and wave to Gray through his window. That gradually evolved into patio visitations, and now can even include a quick game of catch.
"Ethan's probably one of my bestest friends," grinned Morrow, who just wrapped up an abbreviated freshman season at Catawba Valley Community College.. "He's always there for me. He's somebody I can always count on and he truly just motivates me for honestly anything I do."
Hartis taught both Morrow and Hester when she was on the faculty at TCR, but early on even she could not have predicted the impact the duo would have in her son's life. "I cannot teach what they have," she stated. "That's a God-given gift that they have within their hearts. I can't teach that."
Roberson has embraced the PEP students in every corner of the athletics program, but especially with the baseball team. Above the home dugout is a section of seats called the "Pep Deck." The area is dedicated to students like Ethan, who is specifically declared the Rams' "#1 Fan" on the section sign.
That love and inclusion has surpassed the reaches of the coronavirus. "Ethan wants to feel important," Hartis choked out. "Ethan wants to be important, and they make him important."