On day 532 since Riley left this world I am compelled to post here and say thank you to a special group of people. Riley started volunteering as a basketball coach for the Special Olympics during his sophomore season of high school. His mom, Tammy, knew Will Stewart who ran the Forsyth County program and thought it would benefit Riley who was going through a tough basketball season at the time. Will has been a part of Special Olympics for over two decades and he, along with his players, welcomed Riley with open arms.
Today Will and the Special Olympics of Forsyth County hosted an invitational basketball tournament in Riley's honor. SO basketball players and cheerleaders from around the Triad came to East Forsyth, Riley's high school, to compete in remembrance of him. It was a fun day with lots of awards, high fives, hugs, and smiles.
I often wondered why Riley at 16 years old was willing to routinely give up sleeping in on Saturday mornings to go coach with SO. It hit me today as I heard one of the athletes read a prayer he wrote in which he called Riley his "friend" instead of "coach". Riley loved SO because to his players he was just Coach Riley and a friend. He wasn't Rusty's son and there was no pressure to perform or fear of losing; no one to disappoint or let down if he wasn't good enough. The players all accepted him for who he was just as he accepted them for who they were.
Ironically if we had won our Elite 8 game at West Forsyth we would have been playing in the final four today, day 532. It would have been a special day for our team to continue playing for a state title. I am thankful that Riley's players and friends with Special Olympics helped make today even more special to our family. I am especially grateful that they helped remind us of the joy that comes with loving others just as God has made them.