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Thunderhawks rally around Francour

Kali photo/Eric Doxtator

Syble Hopp senior and Oneida citizen Hudson Francour had a night he won’t soon forget when his Oneida Thunderhawks boys basketball team surprised him by showing up and cheering him on during one of his final Special Olympics games February 5. Francour has been the Thunderhawks team manager the past two seasons and the boys quickly took him under their wings as one of their own.  

Wednesday, Feb. 5, was a special day for Oneida’s Hudson Francour, a senior at Syble Hopp School in De Pere. Francour, 18, received some surprising and welcome support from the Thunderhawks when the entire varsity boy’s basketball team showed up for one of Francour’s final Special Olympics basketball games at Syble Hopp.

Francour, who has autism, has served as the T-Hawks manager for the past two seasons and was thrilled to see “his” team arrive to cheer him on. “It was great seeing them all,” Francour said. “Seeing Javon Webster, Alex Vansteel, and all the guys there made me feel really good. It was exciting and I was pumped. It was great.”

“I had invited (Thunderhawks’ Head Coach Jamison King) to the game and he said he’d bring some of the players with,” Margaret King, Francour’s mother, said. “Suddenly they showed up and it was the whole team….it was awesome. They not only cheered on Hudson, but the other team as well. It was really special. I had other parents come up to me after the game and say they were so proud of what those boys did.”

It was his volunteering to help manage a summer basketball league in Pulaski that motivated Francour and his mother to reach out to the Thunderhawks to see if they could use a manager. Oneida Nation High School Principal Artley Skenandore and Coach King were more than happy to give Francour that opportunity.

“Hudson’s been a great help to our team doing whatever we ask of him,” Jamison said. “He always has the most upbeat attitude and he’s very aware of what’s happening during the game. There are times when he’s on the bench with us and he’s calling out how much time is on the clock, the score, and fouls. You can tell he has such a great love for the game of basketball. I’m not sure the boys on the team realize that he’s one of their biggest supporters and fans. You can see that he admires them and what they can do on the court.

“When his mom told me about the game there wasn’t a second thought about it,” Jamison said. “I immediately knew we had to go and show Hudson that same love and support he’s shown us for the past two seasons. We were glad to be there, and the boys got to switch roles and be his biggest fans that night. He had a pretty strong fan base that night not only from his basketball family but from his immediate family as well. It was really nice seeing these young men supporting and lifting each other up. I could see the expression on Hudson’s face when the team came into the gym, like ‘wow, my guys are here!’ From what I heard he was pretty excited after the game and didn’t sleep much that night.”

“Hudson came in when I came here my sophomore year,” Thunderhawks junior Javon Webster said. “He was the guy that was going to record the games for us, but he became so much more. We’re all brothers on this team and he became one of our brothers. He had a game day recently and we felt like we needed to go support him because he’s always there supporting us. It felt really good to be there with everybody else because we weren’t just cheering for Hudson, but for everybody else that was there participating. He’s one of the big members of our team and we won’t ever forget him. Go Hudson!”

“He’s a really cool kid,” Senior Lahsa Hill said. “He’s always supporting the team and recording games when he can so we thought it would be nice to show him some support too and help make his day a little brighter.”

Francour’s responsibilities as team manager include videotaping games, taking care of the water needs of the players, and helping load and unload team equipment on game days. “He really enjoys the videotaping the most,” Margaret said. “He said the boys can always look at their performance and improve themselves because he always wants to be there for them.

“Every morning on game days he’s so excited,” Margaret said. “We’ve made most of the games but missed a few due to the distance. But he’s always looking up the game scores and making sure he can make it to the next game. The Thunderhawks have really included him and that’s been such a confidence builder for him. They value him and they show it.

“This was an eye-opener not only for Hudson but for the boys as well,” Margaret said. “For them to see young men with disabilities play a competitive sport, and be quick and knowledgeable about the game, was definitely a mutual event for all involved.

“I just really commend the Oneida Thunderhawks team and administration,” Margaret said. “They gave Hudson the chance to be included on their team. It’s so meaningful for us that they’re inclusive and not exclusive. Everybody just looked past his disability and saw how upbeat and encouraging he is. This is like an avenue for him to be included, be busy, have a possible occupation, and just have a fun time.

“Sports are great with getting your foot in the door with things,” Margaret said. “But I also really want to thank David Danforth Jr. in the Language Department because he spent time with Hudson and helped train him to shoot. It takes a special person to help train special needs kids and stick with them, so I just wanted to acknowledge him and thank him for doing that. I know there are a lot of kids in the community with autism, so I hope this gives people some hope because there are opportunities out there if you’re able to connect with the right people.”

Francour is on course to graduate from Syble Hopp in May, Margaret said, and from there it may be on to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. “He may do some training next year at NWTC in their program for young adults with disabilities,” Margaret said. “He’s already working two jobs at the Packers Pro Shop warehouse and at St. Norbert College in the kitchen, where they absolutely love him because he’s so efficient.”

Francour, a young man of few words, is grateful for the show of love and support on the part of his Thunderhawks. “I just want to say thank you for coming to my game,” Francour said. “It makes me feel good.”