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by Marilyn Kearney
Nan Kanter has been on her feet for the Blue Valley Special Needs Community for over 25 years. Finally, on September 4, for just a little while, she was able to sit down – in the famous Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat.
Since its creation in 2007, the famous padded stadium seat has been reserved for those who best exemplify the spirit of the man for which it was named: a spirit defined by community and compassion, of vision and drive. Those chosen for the honor are chosen by their peers through nomination. To be both nominated and selected is an incomparable expression of the love had for the nominee by everyone around them.
"I know there are so many deserving people that do so much for our special needs community," Kanter said. "So I felt quite honored and flattered to be selected."
The preparations for the Special Day at the K began long before that warm September afternoon. Last March, Kanter said, she was approached by Rex and Jennifer Hudler and told that she had been selected to be honored with the spot in the Buck O'Neil seat.
"I was very excited and thrilled, but also a bit nervous about it all," said Kanter.
Meetings with Jennifer Hudler, to prepare for the Special Day began in spring. The Hudlers generously provided tickets for the families, coaches, and friends of the special needs community, in addition to the tickets to be sold specifically to benefit the Special Olympics.
"Jennifer and I met and talked many times about the events of the days," said Kanter. "She worked diligently on getting sponsors and gifts as well as raffle items for the day." The raffle took place during a catered lunch on the day of the game and featured a variety of special baseball memorabilia.
The time before the game was arguably the best time for Nan. Rex and Jennifer Hudler – the creators of Team Up for Down Syndrome – stood before the crowd of Nan's family and community friends and welcomed them all to the event. Afterwards, Nan was given the mic to say a few words of welcome, appreciation, and gratitude.
"It was amazing to see a long line of families and friends waiting at the Pavilion outside the stadium," Kanter said. "It was so wonderful seeing and greeting those families. For many it was the first time they had ever attended a Royal's game. There were so many smiles that day!"
During the game, Nan was caught on the jumbotron, with her family by her side, waving and beaming as the announcer told the stadium all about the Kanters and why they were there. Nan, especially, was grateful to have her family with her, as they always are.
"[Before the game,] our son Michael, who has special needs, would go around and tell all of our friends and family that his mom was going to be seating in the Buck O'Neil seat," said Kanter. "He kept asking all of them to come to the "Special Day at the K."
"My husband Sid as well was thrilled for me" Kanter went on. "Sid plays a very vital role in the special needs community. He is always willing to volunteer in whatever area he is needed, whether it be coaching, volunteering in whatever needs to be done, offering suggestions or just helping me "schlep" all of the gear needed for each of our events."
As the day drew to a close, Nan found herself thinking not just about the game and the gatherings with friends and family, but about those few quiet moments to herself in the stadium before it all began.
"I wasn't quite sure how all of the events at the 'Special Day at the K' were going to take place," recalls Kanter. "I had to arrive early as there were some TV interviews on the day of the game. I sat in the Buck O'Neil seat as I was interviewed. There was an amazing feeling that came over me. Since there was no one else in the stadium seats at that early hour, I felt very emotional as I looked around me. I think that is when I realized how truly wonderful this honor was. I was so appreciative."
In the end, the honor of the Buck O'Neil Seat at the Special Day at the K came down to what it always comes down to for Nan Kanter: the people whose lives she touches. It was a day about which, she said, she will always have wonderful fond memories.
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