Why Bridgeport? Inclusion Not Simply a City Phrase

By Jon Griffith on January 21, 2023 from Why Bridgeport? via

Bridgeport and our residents often get wrongly accused of being elitist or arrogant. That reputation circulates widely throughout our area.
The truth is, we do have a few people matching that description (just like every other community), but the overwhelming majority of our citizens are kind, generous, and accepting. I could relate my experience of moving into Bridgeport to prove my argument, but I will provide a different story as evidence.
Early on, teaching at Bridgeport High School, I found myself in a staff meeting listening to another teacher extolling the tremendous positive benefits of what she called Inclusion. That legendary teacher, for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration to this day, was Pam Hotsinpiller.
I am fortunate to consider her a friend now also. Her lesson to the staff that day was not lost on me.
Throughout the three decades of classroom teaching that followed, I worked closely with the BHS Special Education Department, its teachers, and aides. People like Janie Riley, Marsha Coakley, Belen Hutson, Sandy Knoblock, and Adam King to name just a few.
I did so to ensure their students would always be welcome in my classes, and they were. I was fortunate to teach and learn from dozens of unique and inspiring students, as did many other BHS teachers. However, I saw some of the greatest benefits from inclusion on my track and field and cross country teams.
Both the track and field and cross country teams at BHS have experienced a good deal of success. Conference, regional, and state championships are career highlights, along with the incredible individual achievements of some tremendous athletes through the years.
While those triumphs are extremely important to me, they share the spotlight with the accomplishments of some other very special athletes. Take Corey Wagner for example. He was a very good sprinter for us in the 100-meter dash and 4x100 meter relay. As a deaf athlete, he excelled in a sport that relies highly on hearing a gun go off to start a race or hearing a teammate yell “GO” in a sprint relay to make a handoff.
I cheered for Josh “the boy in the red hat” Reinhart through so many cross country races. Every finish of those 3.1-mile races was a milestone. Or perhaps Megan Krohe, who not only was a thrower for us, but also the BHS Cheerleaders manager and Homecoming Queen.
How could I forget the day that Drew Dawson broke the three-minute barrier in the 800m run? Every one of these athletes and their accomplishments was celebrated by the athlete, their families, the coaching staff, and the entire team. That enthusiasm often spread to the community at large and occasionally even to other teams and their families. That is exactly the case for these final two examples.
First is the story of Nathan Dye. I could write an entire blog about Nathan, but fortunately for me and you, Jeff Toquinto has already done that. (CLICK HERE to Jeff’s Blog)
Even today, I find it hard to read Jeff’s blog about Nathan without getting choked up. Not only is it a story about overcoming adversity, setting goals, and finding a storybook ending, it is a story of acceptance, inclusion, teamwork, and friendship. Nathan’s following extended beyond our team and city. He acquired followers and fans throughout the shot-put community across the region and the state. When he finally threw the “Magic 15” feet, virtually everything came to a standstill at the meet to celebrate Nathan in his moment of glory.
Finally, the incredibly inspiring life of Eli Bailey. Again, Jeff Toquinto has beaten me to the punch, and I am forever grateful that he did. (CLICK HERE to Jeff’s Blog)
Eli’s story is a movie in search of a producer. To say that Eli has overcome adversity is the understatement of a lifetime. As an infant, the doctors said he would likely never be able to walk. To see him running high school 5K cross country races on uneven ground and finishing ahead of other runners
was astounding.
More amazing was hearing the chants of “Go Eli !!!” from all of the other teams and families at every
course we attended as they seemed determined to mentally will him to the finish line. He was without a doubt the most famous cross country athlete in the state at the time.
Eli, Nathan, and all of the rest of these special athletes will forever hold a place in my heart. Just as important is the fact that they show how consequential inclusion can be and how Bridgeport is a welcoming and accepting community that is far from the elitist label that some want to adhere to us.
So, “Why Bridgeport?” Because Bridgeport will embrace anyone and everyone willing to be a positive influence, be productive, and work together to create a better life for us all.
Editor's Note: Top photo is of former Bridgeport High educator Pam Hotsinpiller, while the second photo shows Nathan Dye getting a visit in Huntington from his high school friends Nick Sellas, left, and Nat Frederick, right. Bottom photo shows Eli Bailey breaking one of many personal records in a 5K as he was a legendary member of the BHS cross country team. 

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