ToquiNotes: How the Greatest and Most Popular BHS Athlete also is Arguably Most Popular Student Ever

By Jeff Toquinto on September 21, 2019 from ToquiNotes via

When I make a mistake, I own up to it. And when I need clarify something, I own up to that as well.
Today is one of those days where I really need to clarify something that I wrote about a few years ago. I did a sports blog on the most popular and greatest athlete in Bridgeport High School history.
I’m not here to change that. In fact, the absolute lack of disagreement and 100 percent total agreement with the point of the sports blog showed me I was on the right path.
For those that remember, the blog was on current BHS senior Eli Bailey. Bailey was then, and remains, a member of the Bridgeport Cross Country team.
It’s one other area where I fell short. It’s the area I need to clarify. It’s also one that can’t accurately be proven true or not true, but an argument I’m going to go ahead and lobby for right here in this very blog.
You see, Eli Bailey is more than just the most popular athlete to put on the red and white at Bridgeport High School. Eli Bailey is the most popular student to stroll the halls at Bridgeport High School. I’ll get to that here in a minute.
First, for those being introduced to my friend Eli for the first time, a little bit of background is in order. Eli faces some disabilities as a result of three brain surgeries as a child that finally resulted in the complete removal of the left portion of his brain.
Even before he was born, Eli was seizing while in utero and after he was delivered. In fact, he was seizing every three hours after he was delivered. The problems led to a decision three months after birth that the entire left side of Eli’s brain would need to be disconnected.
The surgery to do that – and the accompanying medicine along with it – didn’t work. The seizures continued, and they continued for the next three years before the surgery was done to remove the left side of his brain. It would be an eight-hour procedure that resulted in Eli’s mother Beth Fox being told the seizures would never happen again, but that any level of normalcy in his life was far from a guarantee.
In the medical field, they must tell you what the worst case and most likely scenario can be. As for guarantees, let me give you one where the doctors were right – Eli Bailey isn’t normal at all. As I said before, he’s the most popular student to ever walk the halls at Bridgeport High School.
For Eli’s mom, Beth Fox, knowing he’s loved at school is often overwhelming. Like the parents of many children with special needs, worry is a constant. Wondering how Eli is doing at BHS, isn’t part of the worry.
“When they’re born, and they have trouble it’s always in your mind; what does their future hold? Will he get made fun of? Will people treat him different? People do treat him different, but it’s in a remarkable way,” said Fox. “Every day when you leave your child at school or social events you worry. I’m not there to protect him and to see how he is being affected by his peers,” said Fox. “What you see, time and time again, amazing things happening, and the worry has long since faded because I know he’s loved there.”
If anyone needed proof, all they had to do was watch the regular “Indian Insider” video that Brad Bonenberger’s class puts together daily. On it was a segment asking everyone if they knew what day it was? The answer was obvious – it was Eli Bailey’s birthday. Check it out below and go to the 4:45 mark if you want to get there quickly.
It will make you smile. And perhaps, like his mother, it will make you cry.
“When I was sent the video after getting some texts about, I was kind of excited because Eli loves birthday week. I was at work and watched it and I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I teared up and had this euphoria wondering what he’s done to deserve this and it’s just him being him and everyone accepting him,” said Fox.
If you didn’t watch, at the end, students and staff all sang to Eli and his solar-powered smile simply illuminated from the video. The doctors were spot on – it just isn’t normal to be this popular.
It’s not just because he runs cross country. It’s not because of issues he faced at birth that he deals with to this day. It’s because he’s just being Eli and to know that means all you must do is get to know him. Count Principal Matt DeMotto among the throng of fans.
“I’ve never seen Eli look at me without talking to me and smiling. Here’s a kid happy every single day,” said DeMotto. “It would be nice if we all have a little more Eli in us. I can tell you for sure the kids in the school absolutely love him.”
Fox said Eli loves the students. She said there is a reinforcement constantly of “a circle of good” that is always there from feedback in every manner from the school.
“That never gets old. You never get tired of it. It’s soul soothing,” she said.
Imagine, for most folks in my age, if Eli had gone to school with us. For the most part, students with special needs would never be involved with sports, school plays (which Eli will be part of by the way), social clubs, homecoming and anything else.
Where would he be? Beth Fox says she asks herself that but is thankful she doesn’t have to know the answer.
“I can’t imagine where he would be right now If they segregated children with special needs. Whoever was against this certainly got it wrong,” she said. “It’s not just with Eli but his peers that have any type of physical or cognitive issues. They are so included in everything from sports to social events, homecoming, they incorporate him.
“You have to give the credit to the students and his class, but it’s wasn’t just this class. It’s been the class before and the class before that. He’s created a circle of friends that make him love his school and make him love his life,” said Fox. “He’s not looking forward to graduating, but I imagine and hope when he gets a job the same thing will happen.”
Of that I am certain. And I can’t wait to write about it.
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Eli Bailey at a preseason cross country practice, while he's shown with Melissa Hart at last year's BHS Prom. The third picture is a screen shot from the video below of students singing happy birthday to him. Eli is shown heading to work at Bridgeport Parks and Recreation last year where P&R Director Joe Shuttleworth said Eli was the multiple time employee of the month. Bottom photo shows Eli in some cross country competition where his mother Beth said he often gets sidetracked when he hears people yelling his name and waves to them.

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