State Stories

26

Social Media Post Shines Spotlight on Hononegah Basketball “Role” Player

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Photos courtesy of Michael Powers

High school hoops fans Kristi and Michael Powers set out to watch Hononegah and Boylan Catholic face off in the IHSA Class 4A Girls Basketball Sectional Championship at Belvidere North High School on February 21, 2019 expecting to see a classic battle between the rival schools.


Marquette University commit Jordan King didn’t disappoint, as she scored 24 points to lead Hononegah to a 68-53 victory. Despite King’s clutch play, it was another Hononegah player that continued to catch Kristi’s eye throughout the game. Senior forward Aeris Butler, who has just 28 points on the season, was a team leader from the bench.

Powers chronicled the experience in a Facebook post that has since gone viral entitled “This Girl”. Read it below:


“This Girl”
By Kristi Powers

Two nights ago, Michael T. and I headed south of the border to Illinois to watch a basketball game. You know, that place Wisconsin people don't usually go to. Well I am glad we did! Our friend, Josh Flickinger, knows how much we love a good high school game. He told us, "You have to come watch this team at least once this year." Knowing that they were now playing for a Sectional Championship, our time to see Hononegah compete was now or never.

The very moment we stepped into the gym that night, we entered every high school basketball girl's dream. The gym was packed with wall-to-wall people and the atmosphere was electric!

As soon as the game began, Michael grabbed his camera and started roaming the gym in his quest to get a pictorial journal of this epic contest between Boylan and Hononegah. That left me sitting in the stands among strangers taking it all in. In all the 40 years of playing/watching my husband Coach, I have observed many different teams and scenarios.

Josh had told us that we would get to see Jordan King, one of the best players to ever come through the stateline area. He also told us that Hononegah had a phenomenal team and that this battle with Boylan would be an epic game. All of these things were true. I watched two teams battle it out on the court and I watched Jordan King live up to her billing. What a fantastic player. Poised, confident, classy. My kind of athlete. I also watched two great coaching staffs coach their hearts out.

In the first few minutes of the game, Josh leaned in and told my husband "I wish every student athlete could experience this atmosphere just once in their lifetime!" We couldn’t agree more. These are the nights you will never forget.

As bright as the spotlight was on this game, there was a beacon of light that radiated from the Hononegah bench. While it seemed that every player on the bench was excited and rooting for their team, my eyes were drawn to one particular girl. As I said, I have watched a lot of games over the years. Whenever I go someplace new or watch a team I have never seen before I observe things: The players on the court, the parents, the crowd, the Coach and his/her style of Coaching and most importantly, the players on the bench.

One of the major changes that I have observed in the last decade of high school basketball is that there are fewer and fewer athletes who are willing to be role players. I see more pouting, attitudes and downright moping on the benches across the stateline area then ever before. But not this girl. My first thought was that she might be one of the first players off the bench to get in the game. By half-time I knew she was most likely not going to get in the game at all. I would not have guessed that though. I have never seen a more engaged, encouraging, verbally involved player on the bench then this girl. She could barely sit in her seat. She was excitedly talking to the players on every possession. She was engaged and encouraging, EVERY SINGLE minute of that game.

At half-time my husband made his way over to me to talk about the game. I said to him, "Michael, watch number 21 while you are taking pictures. She is the best example of a Senior leader I have watched in a very long time." By the end of the game, Michael knew how true my words were.

While the game was exciting and the players on the court were mesmerizing to watch, I found myself drawn to #21 and envisioned myself watching the game through her eyes. She was as entertaining and engaging as the whole game itself! The excitement and love that she had for her teammates, coaches and the game of basketball was oozing out of this girl. She took every opportunity she could to stand, clap, cheer and yell for her team. Numerous times I had tears in my eyes as I watched this young lady show the whole world how to act.

When that final buzzer sounded she was bursting at the seams with joy. Excitement bubbled out of her through her words and body language. I couldn't help but be happier for her than any other kid on that floor. And even though she could barely contain her joy and wanted to join her teammates in the premature celebration, she and one other player were the only ones to remember and heed what the head Coach said right before the final buzzer, "Remember to shake their hands, FIRST, celebrate second". Here was a girl who LISTENED to her Coach.

You see, she is a rarity in today’s day and age. Basketball is a long, grueling season. Few athletes are willing to be role players on a team for those long four months. I don’t know if she fully understands how valuable she is to her team. She makes those girls that are starting and playing most of the game so much better. She does this by being at practice, pushing them to get better and better every day. She is their biggest fan. She truly defines what it is to be a TEAM player. She didn't pout last night because she didn't get in the game. I didn't find her searching the crowd to catch the gaze of one of her parents and give them a puppy dog look that says "Whoa is me, rescue me! I should be playing." No, she was too busy and engaged in the game for that nonsense.

Let me be clear, I don't know her. I don't know her family or her parents, but I know greatness when I see it. I know when I see a teen who was born to be a life breather and a world changer. How do I know this? Because actions and body language speak louder than words. Here was a kid who has accepted her role and did it because her part to play has made her whole team that much better.
Fans, Parents, Players, we need more people in this world who are willing to accept their roles like this. We need more people who know that it is okay to not play in every game and that when you are on the bench you need to bring a fire and energy that makes everyone in the gym notice. We need more players who understand that playing a few minutes each game just for their defensive ability IS their role and that is okay.

Playing on a high school Varsity team is NO different than being a part of a perfectly orchestrated musical where each person has their role. When my boys go out for local theater, I say this to them before every audition, "Do your very best, but understand that the Director has a vision. If they would like you to be a tree, then be the BEST TREE the musical has ever seen."

Each player has their role on a Varsity Sports team as well. When we accept and acknowledge it, we make our TEAM BETTER. And when we learn that life is not about us as individuals, we make our world better. We need more people to see and celebrate these kinds of players for their GREAT contribution to their team.

Number 21, I don’t even know your name but I want you to know, that my husband and I noticed you. You may not have seen any action on the floor but to me, you were as valuable as the Division 1 recruit on your team. So much of your team’s success has been because you are willing to play your role and you have done it amazingly well!

Fans, Parents, Players, allow kids to play their various roles on the team instead of worrying about who scores or plays the most. Teams who accomplish a lot on and off the court not only understand this but they accept and embrace this. They know that at the end of the day, individuals accomplish little, but teams accomplish MUCH!

Congratulations, number 21. I know you will go far in this world and have a huge impact on those around you as you pursue the path ahead of you in life. To the rest of us, may we ALL strive to be like this girl!

End Note From Michael: Since posting this article we now know that the amazing young lady in this story is Aeris Butler. Aeris, I have been a high school coach for 30 years and my wife and I have worked with a lot of teens here in the US and in other countries. We just want you to know that the sports world needs more young people like you! Be sure to share this post to honor Aeris and tag a player or coach who you think embodies the spirit of sportsmanship!

Here is the link to see all the photos from that night:
https://www.facebook.com/pg/TrueBlueCoaching/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2102607019795009

To read more of Kristi's writing visit her website at:
https://hearttouchers.com/kristi_powers