It was pretty much everything you would expect from a small town kid making his debut in front of a couple thousand University of Illinois basketball fans.
|Family selfie at Grace's first-ever college basketball game!|
As soon as the University of Illinois released their schedule, I had Nov. 15 circled on my calendar. With the exception of it being on a Sunday, a busy day here at the paper, it was the perfect storm for a Hillsboro sportswriter.
|Cheering for Grace's favorite North Dakota State Bison, Dylan Miller|
The biggest name in Hillsboro High School basketball over the last three years and the first D1 men's basketball player from HHS since 1974, against the biggest college basketball program in the state made me almost have to pinch myself to make sure it was real.
|Kyle had a blast shooting from courtside!|
Mary and I bought tickets the day they went on sale, knowing that even if I wasn't able to procure media credentials, we wanted to take Grace to the game. Just a few short months after Grace was diagnosed with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy, the Hillsboro boys basketball team provided one of our most memorable moments as Dylan helped Grace "dunk" or as close as she will ever come to it (way closer than her daddy ever will).
|Dylan talking with some teammates at the game.|
In addition to my request, I also sent Wes a link to the blog Mary did about Grace's experience with Dylan. We have made it our goal to give Grace every experience possible for as long as we have her on this Earth and to spread awareness about INAD to anyone who would listen. And thankfully, Wes listened.
|We enjoyed getting to meet Coach Richman too!|
As we got to the game, the nerves hit me pretty hard. The familiar orange and blue of the Illini hardwood and watching some of the best players in the country warm-up brought on a little bit of stage fright. Hence the aforementioned sweating and near cardiac arrest that occurred even before the game started.
We managed to meet up with Wes, despite some cell phone technical difficulties, and he brought us downstairs to the team's locker room.
|Grace and mommy cheered from the stands.|
As it often does, the conversation turned quickly to kids. Coach Richman has four girls, including a pair of four-year-old twins that reminded me a lot of my own little blond haired sprite.
After the quick conversation, we made our way into the locker room, where Coach Richman introduced us and Grace went around and gave out high-fives to all of the players, with an assist from Mary.
We realized later that neither of us had bothered to take a photo of the meet and greet, but ultimately you don't always need a picture to remember something unforgettable.
The game itself was fun, with North Dakota State leading for most of the game before Illinois got hot late and ended up winning 80-74. Dylan did get to play about two minutes toward the end of the first half, to the joy of the pockets of yellow clad "Miller #42" fans throughout the arena.
|Grace and I posed for a photo before the game too!|
The coolest part of the watching the game from the floor for me was seeing senior guard Kory Brown call Miller over after he was taken out and talk to the true freshman. I have no idea what Brown said, but you could see his leadership in that brief conversation and he quickly became my second favorite player on the NDSU roster.
The opportunity to see that conversation and to photograph a University of Illinois game from the floor are bucket list items for me normally, but they were just icing on the cake on Sunday.
The really special moment was meeting Coach Richman and the team. I know that Grace may not have gotten a lot out of it (she slept through about 75 percent of the game), but the opportunity for her to do something like that is forever etched in my memory.
|Grace slept through more than half the game, but I certainly didn't mind the snuggles!|
Sometimes God brings special people into our lives that help make the hard times a little easier to manage by giving us good times that are beyond measure. Thanks to Wes Offerman, Coach Richman, Dylan Miller and the entire Bison Family for being those people.
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