Friendship blooms out of project, physical therapy

The basketball player said his project grade is secondary to his friendship with the second-grader, who amazes him daily.
NORTH LIMA -- While most high school seniors are counting the days till graduation, Chris Hatch is counting his blessings.
Since October, Hatch, a South Range High School senior, has been helping Anthony Hartwig with physical therapy. Along the way, a friendship was forged.
Hatch said the experience, part of a required senior project, has changed him.
Anthony, a second-grader in Sandy Toy's class at South Range Elementary, has cerebral palsy.
"I took everything for granted," Hatch said. "I now have a new perspective on just getting up in the morning. I have it so easy. He has to work for everything."
For Anthony, a 9-year-old who spouts up-to-the-minute sports information faster than ESPN, muscle control is a concentrated effort.
"He doesn't need much motivation," Hatch said. "He works hard every day. He falls down, a lot. He doesn't like it.
"I have been blessed to do this, to help him and see how determined he is and how much progress he's made," Hatch said. "He has grown so much stronger since we started. He was using two crutches all the time. Now he's using one, and that just when he goes outside."
Assignment: Hatch said he had to spend a minimum of 15 hours with Anthony for the project, and will easily have put in nearly double that time. He submitted a research paper on cerebral palsy and summed up the experience in a class presentation last week.
"The project was easy," Hatch said. "I've had it done for a month. We'll keep working until school's out. I've enjoyed this so much, it wasn't even work. The grade doesn't matter, really. It's a side note. I just want to help him."
Anthony said he enjoyed watching Hatch play basketball and agreed having a star basketball player for a pal is "pretty cool."
Hatch said Anthony is a bright, motivated boy who amazes him daily.
"He knows everything," Hatch said. "He knows more than I do. Basketball, golf, baseball, college teams, or the pros. He knows. He'll tell you who the best players are and what a losing team needs to do to win.
Young fan: "He can tell you the names of all our high school players," Hatch said. "Even before we met, he knew me. If he didn't know my name, he knew my number."
Anthony said he enjoyed attending South Range home basketball games and watching Hatch play. "I don't like to watch them lose," he said.
Win or lose, Hatch said he made a point of finding Anthony after games. "He'd usually have something to say," Hatch said, grinning. "He'd ask why I did this or that on a play, or how did I miss a certain shot."
Hatch will attend Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., where he'll study something that will allow him to work with children, and "try to play a little basketball."
Whenever he's home he plans to visit with Anthony and make sure he's still working. With Anthony's attitude and sense of humor, and with support from caring people, Hatch says that won't be a problem.
"He knows his situation and what he has to do," he said. "On days I work with him, he doesn't go with me unless his class work is done. Sometimes I help him, but it's usually not a problem. He is very smart."
Comedian: Hatch said when he first started working with Anthony, he wasn't certain where to begin. It was Anthony who broke the ice, telling a joke.
"He's got a million of them, and I've heard them all, twice," Hatch said, laughing. "Once when he was telling a lot of jokes, someone asked him if he wanted to be a comedian.
"He said 'Yes, I'm going to be a stand-up comedian. I know all the jokes. I just have to work on the standing up part.' "

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