KERRY HUBARTT COLUMN: We should appreciate the special gifts that each of us have

Kerry Hubartt

Sometimes Facebook comes through with some really good stuff.

That’s where I first saw a video of Stefan Xidas in his Cubs jersey and cap walking to the microphone a week ago this evening at Wrigley Field in Chicago before the Cubs-Brewers game and proudly belting out “The Star Spangled Banner” with all the confidence and sincerity of an opera singer.

And the crowd loved it. They loved Stefan, a 30-year-old, lifelong Cubs fan with Down syndrome. They loved his flawless performance, during which he placed his right hand over his heart as he sang “the bombs bursting in air” and kept it there through the end.

After singing he yelled, “Go Cubs! Let’s play ball,” then strode off the field waving to the cheering crowd.

You have to see the video (search for “Stefan Xidas” on YouTube) to appreciate it as much as I did — and my family, to whom I messaged the video and many of whom, like myself, could barely hold back the tears. Two of my offspring have adopted children with Down syndrome, so our family has a particularly deep appreciation for the trials as well as the successes in the lives of people like them and Stefan.

Stefan’s backstory, according to the Chicago Tribune, is that he challenged Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts to allow him to realize his dream of singing the anthem in a GoFundMe campaign that raised $18,600, to be donated to Special Olympics Illinois. The Cubs will match that donation, raising Stefan’s total to $37,200.

Stefan, a New Trier High School graduate and Wilmette, Ill., resident, is a Special Olympics athlete. He wrote on his GoFundMe page that Special Olympics is the largest sports organization in Illinois for people with intellectual disabilities, and he explained that all funds raised will go to the equipment, attire and health supplies that “can help transform an athlete’s life.”

Stefan also sang the national anthem prior to a White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field in 2005 and at the Nielsen/USTA tennis tournament in Winnetka, Ill., in 2012.

“This is my shining moment right here,” he said in the Tribune story. “It’s been the best time I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

Wayne Messmer, a long-time public address announcer for the Cubs who has sung the national anthem before many Cubs games as well as other Chicago sports teams’ games, commented on the WGN-TV video posting on Facebook, saying, “This young man … showed us all what it looks and sounds like when you allow your heart to take charge of your true emotions. (His) performance was extremely heart-warming. I pray that this moment reminded us all to appreciate the special gifts that each of us have, sometimes hiding inside us. As the Voice of Special Olympics Illinois for over 30 years, I have been brought to tears on many occasions by the beautiful athletes whom I have had the privilege to meet and come to know throughout the years. Well done, Stefan! I could not be prouder than I am of you.”

There was no doubt a collective lump in the throats of most people who watched him sing.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.