THE COUNTRY GAZETTE: "Caring not because they have to, but because they choose to"

BY Heather Harris
The Country Gazette

Last week I took the kids to Stonehill College to take in a men's basketball game. Four years ago I brought my son, Dexter, to our local boys high school game. During the game he zeroed in on sophomore guard Michael Boen.

Boen wasn't the flashiest kid out there, he was tall and blonde and maybe that's why Dex connected. He, too, is tall and blonde. I think it had more to do with the fact that Boen played with passion and Dexter, being a pretty sensitive kid, picked up on that.  Boen didn't complain when he was hacked, never rolled his eyes or made ridiculous gestures if he scored a trey. He was a workhorse, many of his points coming off of hard-won rebounds. My type of player.

We followed Michael to the state finals, where they lost that year. Then kept going to watch him play his junior and senior years. In that time, Michael reached out to Dexter and they formed a bond that's difficult to explain.

When a package came in the mail addressed to Dexter this past December I was reminded why we fell in love with Michael.

Inside was a note and a Stonehill College t-shirt. As Dexter read the card he held his hand to his heart,  his face reflecting happiness. Michael was just checking in with his little fan and invited him to a game.

With our crazy schedules, a game night finally opened up for us and off we went. Dexter proudly wore his Stonehill t-shirt and asked if we could sit behind the team's bench.

As a freshman, Michael was riding the pine for most of the game. I watched the rest of the team and said, "Watch number 3, He may not run or shoot technically correct, but watch him get open for the shot."

Michael Boen with Dexter Harris at Mansfield High School (left) and Stonehill. (PHOTO COURTESY Heather Gillis/The Country Gazette)

"Yeah mom, my favorite is number 15."

I was confused. Michael always wore number 5 in high school so I was a bit taken aback when Dexter threw out a new number.

I turned to look at him and Dexter pointed to the bench. Sure enough, Michael was now wearing number 15. We laughed. I tried to explain why he wasn't playing that much. Dexter didn't seem to care, nor did it dull his admiration for his mentor.

Michael's basketball skills may be what initially drew Dexter to Michael, but now he sees Michael beyond the uniform. He sees a guy just starting college, who undoubtedly has a million things going on in his young life, but took the time to reach out to him despite that.

His small gesture, it means a lot.

After the game Dex went out and shot hoops with Michael's younger brother Matty, a seventh-grader (who, if I'm being completely honest, hope the two get to suit up one day at the high school level) and other college-aged kids.

At first Dexter was shy, then out of nowhere started to shoot and lit things up. I turned to Michael's mother. The two of us have also created a bond because of our sons.

"Man, I wish he'd do that during his regular season!"

"He's just showing off for Michael," she chuckled.

"I wish Michael could come to all of his games!"

We laughed and I asked the two to pose for a photo.

"I don't have to get down on my knees anymore," Michael joked.

Indeed he didn't. The first time I took a photo of the duo, Michael crouched down next to Dexter, who was beaming with pride. This time, Dex was up to Michael's shoulders.

Many people will come into your life. Some are negative and some are there to teach you a lesson. But many of our encounters with others are positive.

Michael is a bright light in my son's life. Wherever their paths take them, I hope they both look back at their relationship with gratitude. They don't hang out, they aren't best friends, but their small interactions mean more than either of them probably realize.

But I do. Michael's kindness and ability to reach out means everything to a 10-year-old little boy. Because of Michael, my son feels as if he matters and that someone cares, not because they have to, but because they choose to. There is priceless validation in that.

Heather Gillis is a reporter and columnist for The Country Gazette. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @heatherharrisWL