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KS Proud: basketball team bumps fists with special sisters before games

Published: Apr. 21, 2016 at 4:53 PM CDT
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(Story originally published on 3/6/16)

You won't find many kids at a high school basketball game that don't feel the need to be included. Whether it's on the court, in the band, or part of the cheering section. Maybe that's why Circle High School boys team wanted to add two more players to the lineup.

"We are touched that the team has kind of adopted them and made them a part of their pregame," said Gwen Hartley.

Gwen and Scott Hartley cheer on their firstborn, starting sophomore Cal Hartley, from just behind the bench. "He's one of the hardest working kids that I know," said Scott Hartley.

Cal's motivation sits back there too, in mom and dad's laps. Claire and Lola Hartley have a neurological condition called Microcephaly, but nothing holds them back from supporting their brother and the Thunderbirds. "I'm so lucky that they're my sisters," said Cal Hartley. "I've been a different person ever since growing up with them. It's made me a better person and I'm just lucky to have them."

Gwen says when Claire was born, doctors noticed she had a small head and small brain. After some testing, they made the diagnoses. "We basically were given a pretty sad, pretty grim diagnoses for her that likely she would not live to be a year old."

But she did and five years later the Hartley's wanted to have another child. After Claire was diagnosed, doctors said they had a 25% chance of recurrence with the next one. "We decided we also had a 75% chance or maybe greater that we could have a typical child again," said Gwen Hartley. "We found out with Lola that she was also affected when I was about 26 weeks along."

"Just like any parent we just love our kids," said Scott Hartley. "You do anything for your kid, no matter what their diagnoses might be, or what physical challenges they might have. You love your kids and you do whatever you need to to make them happy and have a great life."

The Hartleys say they were honored when the basketball team found a way to support their girls. "They have their little fists out and they come over and give fists and it's just precious to see," said Gwen Hartley. "I tear up every time. The girls smile and they seem like they're just so proud to be a part of it."

As the game announcer calls out the starters, each player bumps the girls' knuckles and touches their lives. "It's just really special," said Cal Hartley. "I would've never expected it but they're just so cool and I love my teammates."

"For them to include the girls in something like that is just an incredible thing," said Scott Hartley. "But it also says a lot about the team and just the community in general."

A community that understands the importance of acceptance and values the lives of two little girls whose big brother will always defend, as big brothers do. "They have feelings just like everybody else and they can love people too," said Cal Hartley. "They can feel the love as well."

"They have done more for me in my life than I probably ever will for them," said Scott Hartley. "They've changed me and us in such profound ways, we'll probably never really understand all of it."

After the final game, the Hartley's will put their basketball gear away until next year. But they say no season will ever compare to this one.

"I know they're different. I know they have special needs. I know they're not the same as a lot of other eight and 13 year olds," said Gwen Hartley. "But people have been really loving and very supportive and I'm just really appreciative of that."