There are those who avoid challenges at all cost and those who embrace them and turn them into triumphs. As a teenager with autism, Joseph Case High School senior Dan Serdynski’s has seen his fair share of challenges.
There are those who avoid challenges at all cost and those who embrace them and turn them into triumphs.
As a teenager with autism, Joseph Case High School senior Dan Serdynski’s has seen his fair share of challenges.
But they haven’t slowed him down. Just ask the varsity girls basketball team or just about any member of the Case’s 2008 graduating class.
At the start of his high school career, Dan tried out for the freshman Case basketball team but didn’t make the cut, not that that stopped him. Over the next three years, Dan went to every basketball game and became a fixture near the bench of the girl’s varsity basketball team as their volunteer equipment manager and biggest fan.
On March 6, that devotion culminated into Dan being named the receipient of the prestigious coach’s award for his years of volunteering and dedication to Case basketball.
His acceptance speech, which was adjusted from a lengthy two and a half pages to a few paragraphs, was enough to bring the student body to a standing ovation, and many others to tears. In the speech, he thanked the student body for accepting him as he is and for making him part of the Case High community.
“I always loved my job. I worked with the girls because I just wanted to be a part of the action,” said Dan, 18, who was in charge of filling up the teams’ water bottles, gathering and distributing basketballs and other tasks. “I was very excited to get the coach’s award. It made me feel happy that I was a contributing member of Joseph Case High.”
“I think it was his selfless actions that touched people in our school community. I’ve known Dan since he was 15, and he has always been Case High’s biggest fan and a big supporter of the Cardinals,” said Case High Principal Brian McCann. “The coach’s award was an outstanding tribute that reflects his selfless commitments to Case Athletics, where he has helped the team through some winning seasons and some tough ones too. Dan truly bleeds maroon and gold.”
Varsity girls basketball player Margaret Sullner, 18, said most of the girls on the team grew up with Dan and appreciated the fact that he was always there to help them no matter what.
“We love him. He started the same year as we did, and he went to all the games and all the practices, always helping out where he could,” said Sullner. “I don’t know what the girls will do now without him, he helped out so much. He is really, really special.”
Dan’s mother, Lorraine, said her son has always been involved in sports and doesn’t miss a game or a chance to just get involved.
“I remember when he didn’t make the team and I thought he was going to be upset, but his attitude when he came home was much different than I expected,” said Lorraine. “Instead of being mad, he became the equipment manager for the girls and things couldn’t have turned out better. He is an inspiration to us all.”
Lorraine said she has marvelled at how accepted her son has been at Case High School, where she often runs into students at the mall or around town who tell her never to worry about Dan, that the students will always take good care of him.
Dan’s parents stayed away from their son’s awards banquet, so they weren’t able to listen to his speech or witness the standing ovation or the tears, but they know that that’s what Dan wanted.
“He’s very private and he can be more himself if his parents aren’t around, though we would have loved to have been there,” said Lorraine. “He is just a gift and he there is so many wonderful things about him. He makes us all stop and smell the roses.”
Varsity girls basketball coach Dave Silva said Dan was the team’s most loyal supporter, not only at home, but on the long road trip games as well. He’s also just about the friendliest guy in the school.
“Dan is just one of those guys that always had something good to say, the one who always says hello to you from across the hall, whether he’s good friends with you or barely knows you,” said Silva. “For the last four years he has given his all to the team, taking care of all the odds and ends that make a program work.”
When asked how the team would get by next year without Dan, Silva paused.
“Tough question,” he said.
Basketball season is over now as will soon be his high school career and Dan said he hopes to get a summer job in order to make some money. He plans to return to the courts next year to continue to cheer on his team, if only from the sidelines this time.
“I’ll still be paying attention to them, I’ll still be going to the home games,” said Dan.
He wouldn’t want it any other way.
E-mail Jay Pateakos at firstname.lastname@example.org.