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Lights, Camera, and Layups: How one MHS student’s dream came true

JoJo+and+the+wizards+pose+for+pics+in+the+gym+after+the+surprise+basketball+game
JoJo and the wizards pose for pics in the gym after the surprise basketball game

JoJo and the wizards pose for pics in the gym after the surprise basketball game

Isabella Italiano

Isabella Italiano

JoJo and the wizards pose for pics in the gym after the surprise basketball game

Isabella Italiano, Copy Editor

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MHS student, Joseph ‘JoJo’ Gonzalez got the surprise of a lifetime on May 21 when he received a visit from The Harlem Wizards. The professional team challenged the Massapequa All Stars to a basketball game JoJo will never forget, but there’s another gift coming his way.

JoJo, wearing a purple Wizards Jersey with his name displayed on the back, was able to showcase his uplifting spirit and outgoing personality throughout his special game. He showed off his dance moves, played with The Wizards and even took the over microphone to hype up the crowd.

The event was footage for an upcoming episode of George to the Rescue, a television show that rescues the homes of deserving people, which features JoJo and his family.  This game happened because of JoJo’s love for his school and for the game of basketball.

JoJo was born with Down Syndrome and his family moved to Massapequa last December, but the new backyard didn’t have an area for him to pursue his passion. “He was leaving friends that he grew up with,” Jojo’s mom said. “It was a big transition for him.”

When the family applied for the show, the crew fell in love with their story immediately and hoped it would help people relate better to people with different challenges. After almost 100 episodes, JoJo is the first participant with Down Syndrome.

“They’re such an inspiring family and we wanted to reward them with a special transformation they wouldn’t be able to tackle on their own,” George to the Rescue producer, Andrew Bank said. “They look at JoJo as a gift and we were very moved by that, and George was very moved by that.”

The surprises began when the show’s host, George Oliphant knocked on their door to tell them they were chosen for the yard renovation. The family was not expecting it and said it was amazing.

While specific details of the remodel remain a secret until the big reveal in early June, Oliphant and his team of contractors and designers have been working hard and are expecting great reactions from the family. “I hope it’s a basketball court,” JoJo said.

In addition to the backyard makeover, the show wanted to add to this special story. They arranged for The Harlem Wizards to play against Oliphant and the Massapequa All Stars, which included several MHS teachers.

The event included seven Wizards players, their MC, Jamel ‘The Voice’ Thompson, and their staff. The MHS team was made up of teachers including Mr. Jesse Meyer, Mr. Michael Labella, Ms. Alyssa Perri, Mrs. Shari and Mr. Jake Roessler, Mrs. Leighann Zimmer, and special guest George Oliphant.

For over 50 years The Harlem Wizards has brought hundreds of talented, humorous shows to schools and nonprofits across the country. Each game interacts with teachers and everyone in the stands, and this one held an extra special place in the hearts of the teammates.

“Our team was humble[d] to be a part of bringing an amazing young man like JoJo a special experience.” Eric “Broadway” Jones, Wizards Showman and Player said.

The crowd cheered as JoJo got everyone in the stands to clap along while players performed trick shots and danced around him. “The enthusiasm and energy that the MHS student body brought into the gym was fantastic,” Oliphant said. “The love for JoJo was especially heartwarming.”

JoJo knew his family, along with George and his crew would be at school, but was unaware of the real plan for that morning. “We had the production team and the Wizards team hidden in a classroom until the event,” Secondary Supervisor of Special Education Mrs. Danielle Helfand said.

In 2016, Wizards team member, Arthur “King Arthur” Lewis Jr. Published a children’s book titled Is the King Too Small to Play Ball???? The story is about being able to overcome obstacles to do what you love. At the end of the game, as the Wizards crew packed up the show, King Arthur presented to an ecstatic JoJo a signed copy of the book and posed for pictures.

Superintendent Mrs. Lucille Iconis, several school and district administrators and the Mayor of Massapequa Park, Jeffrey Pravato, also attended the event.

Members of the MHS community who were in attendance felt the game turned a regular school day into something they will never forget. “I thought it was meaningful that JoJo was an honorable player,” sophomore Jessica Heaney said. “He did a fantastic job.”

During the event, MHS Principal Patrick DiClemente was reminded of two videos, The Present and The Danger of a Single Story, both of which contained a message of awareness and inclusion. “[The game] helped students to see multiple perspectives or different lifestyles,”

For everyone, especially JoJo, the surprise basketball game will always be special. The backyard renovation, and the George to the Rescue experience will give the Gonzalez family positive memories.

The episode of George to the Rescue featuring JoJo and his family will air early this fall on NBC.

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Lights, Camera, and Layups: How one MHS student’s dream came true