Editorial: When 'normal' makes the news

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted8/22/2019 5:19 PM

Consider these very different circumstances: Suburban school districts that have developed playgrounds accessible to children with all types of physical and mental conditions; a child who dies just before his fourth birthday and becomes the focus of a book series; a man who celebrates his 100th birthday at the bowling alley, picking up difficult spares; and a prominent sportscaster with a physical condition that draws attention and whispers.

There is a temptation to think of such stories as "touching," "remarkable," even "inspirational." We're in mind of a different description.



"Normal" is not generally the terrain of daily newspapers. We traffic in the unusual, the surprising, the sensational. "Man bites dog" and all that. And, yet, we have seen in these stories how touching and inspirational "normal" can be.

School districts like Palatine Township Elementary District 15 and Barrington Area Unit District 220 hope to share both that message and its broader benefits by helping children with disabilities play on equipment alongside their friends with typical abilities.

"That's not only good for the students with disabilities, but there is evidence to suggest that typically-developing students benefit as well," Kevin Rubenstein, board president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education, told our Bob Susnjara. "These playgrounds are a natural extension of the inclusive world that surrounds these students ..."

In other words, normal.

Staff writer Lauren Rohr described a foundation established by Elizabeth and Rob Gerlach, of St. Charles, in memory of their young son Ben, who died in 2016. Elizabeth has written two children's books and plans a full series built around a child like Ben, who had cerebral palsy and epilepsy. The central action of the books focuses on family activities Ben enjoyed -- trips to the beach, the circus, trick-or-treating, preschool.

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In other words, normal.

Then, at the other end of the life continuum, there's Larry Vakoc. Columnist Burt Constable described a 100th birthday celebration for him at Wood Dale Bowl, where Vakoc bowls in a seniors league every Thursday, maintains a 120 average and has no intention of slowing down. "It's a lot of fun, and I enjoy it," he says.

Sounds pretty normal to us.

And then there's Jason Benetti, the White Sox play-by-play announcer our Marie Wilson profiled on Sunday. Benetti, whose cerebral palsy affects how he walks and the movement of his eyes, produces a video series called "Awkward Moments," in which he aims to show people, and kids especially, that someone with a disability "can just be another one of your friends -- not a friend that you tote along, or not a friend that you are friends with out of pity, or not a friend that is a curiosity or a trinket, but just a person."

It's an admirable goal, dare we say inspirational? But it's Brooks Boyer, a top marketing executive for the Sox, who pays Benetti, and by extension all individuals with disabilities, the greatest compliment. "His insatiable quest for baseball knowledge," Boyer says, "his quick wit, his attention to detail and the ideas he shares from a White Sox fan perspective enhance every single broadcast."

In other words, Benetti has what's expected of any play-by-play announcer in Major League Baseball -- an ability to understand the sport and connect with fans that is, well, just not normal.

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