Wendell Maxey, King Sports Information and Social Media Liaison
They got all dressed-up. They danced their hearts out. They made new friends and bonded as a basketball team by dishing out a big assist off of the court to those who will never forget it.
For the second-straight year, members of the Varsity Girls Basketball team came together to volunteer at Night to Shine, a prom for teenagers and young adults with special needs held at Grace Farms in New Canaan on Saturday, February 8. A nation-wide event sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, individuals from the ages of 14 to 25 years old with special needs and disabilities from across Fairfield County attended the annual gathering with volunteer buddies who danced and laughed the night away.
"I'm so excited for the Girls' Basketball team to participate in Night to Shine again this year as 'buddies', not only to make a huge impact on the special needs teens we help, but to grow together as a team as well," said King School Senior and Varsity Girls Basketball guard, Diana Degnan, who organized the outreach event for the team.
Joining Degnan on the night were teammates Erica Cunningham, Zoe Tinnesz, Rachel Oberst, Kate Lockyer, Catelyn Peters, Izzy White, Ava Bakes, Avery Schwartz, Olivia Boeckman, Christine Hanson, Emmi Freeman, and Marianna McOsker, along with Vikings Head Coach Rob Raphael.
"This was my first experience with Night to Shine and I loved it. I was happy to attend and be part of such a positive, inclusive, and high-energy atmosphere that Night to Shine provides. Just seeing the team interact as buddies will serve as an important part in who they are at their core as well as their development as young adults," Coach Raphael explained.
"It was a beautiful reminder that regardless of your age or ability, everyone deserves their own Night to Shine!"
From a red carpet entrance, to paparazzi photo shoots, dancing, dinner, and Kings and Queens being crowned, Night to Shine proved to be a magical evening to remember for everyone in attendance including over 150 participants and 300 volunteers. And those numbers tell only part of the story on a much bigger scale: the Night to Shine event in New Canaan was just one of over 655 similar events taking place in all 50 states, and across 38 international locations in 23 countries amassing more than 200,000 volunteers serving more than 100,000 honored guests simultaneously on one night.
"This year registration for the event sold out in under 24-hours and the more volunteers sign-up for Night to Shine, the more special needs teens can come and enjoy the night. Last year, the basketball team volunteered at Night to Shine and this year the entire team has fully embraced the idea. Night to Shine is an incredible prom night for teens and young adults with disabilities and they look forward to this night for the entire year. When we went as a team, we all got a lot closer as a team and talked about the people we met and how much fun we had for the rest of the season," said Degnan.
The life-changing experience extended well beyond the basketball court and into the community for these Vikings.
"When I met with Diana about her proposal to once again attend Night To Shine and serve as a volunteer, it was the idea of the basketball team coming together off of the floor and in the community that really stood out," said Karen Raidt, Director of King Cares and Student Services.
"The passion with helping at Night To Shine is what really resonates because it goes beyond just the individual and impacts the entire team and everyone involved for such a great cause."
For student-athletes like Senior Christine Hanson, volunteering at Night to Shine has become an instant tradition for the King Varsity Girls Basketball team she hopes will continue to carry on.
"Every year is such a unique experience, every buddy is different, which makes it so interesting. Just seeing everyone with a huge smile on their faces made me genuinely happy. I had a great time and I cannot wait for the team to do it again next year. I hope that it will be something that sticks with King Girls Basketball throughout the years because it is such a rewarding experience that truly benefits our community."
From newly crowned Kings and Queens to volunteers, buddies, guests, and parents alike, the unforgettable prom night was the chance to realize that each individual makes a unique contribution to help make their own community and the world a better place for all at Night to Shine.
“Everyone worked really hard to make the night fun and memorable for the special needs kids we were paired up with. I’m really grateful for everyone on the team who participated in Night to Shine and really embraced the event,” Diana Degnan said looking back on the evening.
“I think we came together as a team and made the night really special for everyone we met.”