AMHERST — A mother wants Avon Eagles basketball players to know that even a small amount of mocking toward people with disabilities is hurtful and uncalled for.
Colleen Wilson was at the Amherst-Avon basketball game Tuesday watching her son Nathan Gezzer, 16, a sophomore at Marion L. Steele High School, cheering the team.
Wilson said Nathan suffered a traumatic brain injury at age 3 when his stepfather shook him. He faced an uphill battle, and doctors told Wilson her son would never walk again.
Nathan proved everyone wrong, and although he only tests at a second- or third-grade level, he can cheer and run with the best of them. In fact, in eighth grade Nathan, who is blind in his left eye, was awarded a medal for running cross country.
Wilson said Nathan has been embraced by those in Amherst and the school district, and everyone she knows in the schools has been supportive and encouraging toward her son. The fact that Nathan can cheer with his teammates is a miracle in itself, she said.
So when she saw two Avon basketball players nudging each other, pointing and laughing at her son as he stood alongside junior varsity cheerleaders at Tuesday’s game, she was heartbroken. Nathan didn’t see or hear the boys, Wilson said.
“They weren’t overtly mocking or making fun of him, and you could tell one boy was instigating to the boy standing next to him,” Wilson said. “The one boy was nudging the other, looking at Nathan and chuckling. What angers me is this type of behavior doesn’t have to be blatant or huge to be hurtful. I want people to know that, as his mother sitting there, it hurt me.”
Wilson put her thoughts on social media after the incident and the post has been shared hundreds of times. Some Avon students took to defending their team and said the single mother should get all the facts before calling the players out on their behavior.
“Again what is being accused is not what happened,” one Avon student wrote on Twitter. “Our team is moving on … huge game Friday @ Berea Midpark. Do some research, learn the facts god d----.”
Although Wilson received numerous comments from those condemning bullying of any degree, Wilson said it also felt as if the whole community of Avon and the Avon student body thinks she is bashing them and making things up.
Wilson said even if the mocking was minimal, people can’t stand for such behavior.
“I don’t care if the whole community of Avon hates me or thinks I’m nuts,” she said. “I know what I saw.”
Avon Schools Superintendent Mike Laub and Athletic Director Erich Frombach did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
However, Wilson said she spoke to both men, who reassured her that what she saw was not a figment of her imagination as some of the Avon High School student body would like to believe.
“What I got from them was what you saw is what you saw, which was your son being mocked or pointed out and laughed at,” she said. “In talking to them though, and hearing about their community more, I believe the Avon community as a whole would treat Nathan just as wonderful as Amherst does.”
Amherst Schools Athletic Director Casey Wolf said he was made aware of the situation at the game and since that time he has talked to Frombach who “has been nothing but great.”
“The Avon administration is looking into this, and will handle it as appropriately as they feel on their side,” Wolf said.
Wolf said he sees Nathan every day, and he and his classmates stop at Wolf’s office daily to say hello. Athletes must hold themselves to a higher standard, he said, and mocking others is never acceptable.
“Nathan and those students are unbelievable kids,” Wolf said. “This is more about educating people that they don’t know a person’s circumstances. Colleen has taken the right approach in letting people know to get to know those circumstances before passing judgment.”
This post has been edited to reflect the following correction: Nathan Gezzer is not deaf, and is blind in one eye.