Student managers hold a special place in the heart of American prep sports. They are the dedicated athletes who don’t compete, those who are relegated to handing out towels and dealing with Gatorade cups willingly, all while their classmates receive the willing adulation of their peers in the crowd.
Yet it has become a tradition across the country for programs to flip the script for at least a game, having student managers compete in at least one varsity game as a homage to their dedication to the program. Never has that symbolic gesture been more moving than in Fairfax Virginia, where the Fairfax (Va.) High baseball program pulled out all the stops to ensure that student manager Drew Bonner could have a varsity at-bat against Fairfax (Va.) Madison High.
As reported by the Washington Post, Bonner’s appearance required plenty of special plans because the teen suffers from a condition called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Bonner was able to participate in normal activities like baseball until the age of 11, when his Duchenne advanced to a point where it became debilitating for his general movement. He continued to walk until age 14, when Bonner had to give in and use a wheelchair.
That’s still how the Fairfax senior gets around, and is how he rolled to the plate in the bottom of the first inning against Madison. After making his way to the plate, Bonner watched four pitches from Madison pitcher Nick Brady sail by, granting him a free pass to first base.
That’s when things went from being memorable to truly special. Before Bonner’s teammates could reach him to celebrate, the Madison squad had already surrounded the wheelchair-bound teen to congratulate him enthusiastically on reaching base, all to a cacophonous backdrop of “D-Bo” chants.
“It was a lot of fun and brought back some good memories from when I used to play,” Bonner told the Post. “I wasn’t nervous, but I was pretty excited. I can remember playing baseball all my life and it’s just one of the things that I really love to do.
“I was kind of ready for anything. If [the pitches] were close enough in, I would have taken a poke.”
Hey, he was wearing eye black, so why not?
For Bonner, the opponent was as important as his place on the Fairfax squad. Madison is a perennial state power, so giving up a ceremonial walk holds a bit of extra relevance, but Madison is also particularly important for Bonner because it was where he began as a student manager. The Eagle Scout first became a student manager in seventh grade at Madison before eventually transferring to Fairfax for high school.
That’s where Bonner has flourished, motor skills be damned. In addition to earning his Eagle Scout rank, Bonner has served as the student manager for three Fairfax varsity sports teams and was named as a member of the school’s homecoming court. In recent months he capped those achievements with an academic scholarship to study computer science at the University of Virginia.
Still, baseball has always been one of Bonner’s true loves, so getting into a game was a particularly special occasion for a teen who has also been honored by throwing out a first pitch at a Nationals game and spent a day with slugger Jim Thome. That made his one high school at-bat an occasion for legitimate celebration, as his mother Jan Bonner told the Post.
“It was perfection,” Bonner’s mother, Jan, said. “It captured the sportsmanship, the love, the whole team, the school and even [Fairfax County]. The other team as well was just fabulous. It epitomizes what great sportsmanship is all about. …
“I said to my husband [Neil], ‘Turn around and take a picture of the stands,’” Jan Bonner said. “They were just filled with parents, mostly kids and teachers and people that normally don’t come out to these games. Then all of a sudden a group of lacrosse players comes in and fills in right up against the fences because there was no room left in the stands. It just overwhelmed me. The community there is just unbelievable. To be so supportive of Drew, it just takes my breath away.”