By Dan Hardenbrook
It’s a Thursday night in Cheboygan. The Newberry JV boys are battling the Chiefs. It’s been a tough night. But despite being down big, on the road, with a long trip home yet tonight, the boys are battling. They want the ball back. Not because the game is on the line, but because the best teammate in the world wants his chance. With less than 30 seconds left, they’ve got one shot. And everyone knows who’s getting the ball. He heads to the right side, arm up, calling for the pass. He catches it clean, sets his feet, and fires away. SWISH!
The crowd goes nuts. Fans from both sides are cheering. The opposing team is clapping. He gets high fives from the officials. The video clip goes viral. More than 2,000 people see it. Kids share it, parents post it. Friends from other schools comment with congratulations. It’s everywhere and there is only one reason: everyone loves Connor Slaght!
Close family friend and local business owner Chris Beaulieu has known Connor and the Slaghts for years. “His attitude is always positive and friendly,” Beaulieu said. “Connor is a rock star! We could put his face on T-Shirts and sell merchandise and people would buy it all up.”
Newberry JV boys basketball coach Nate Moulton had heard the stories, and now he believes them. “I remember our first game,” Moulton said. “We get him in, and he gets hammered on a hard foul. A riot almost started. But he got up and went to the line and hit the free throws and the place went nuts. It was like Connor-mania in here.”
Moulton loves having him around and says no matter what, each player is better because of it. “As a coach, I don’t smile a whole lot. But you can do nothing but smile when he is around.”
Connor’s effort and attitude are contagious, Moulton said. “I’ve never met a kid that loves to be at practice every single day,” he said. “The guys are so great with him. They are all just as excited as he is.”
Liam Shanley is one of his teammates. “I’m literally playing the whole game waiting for him to get in,” Shanley said. “It’s hard to explain. When he gets in, I don’t sit down until it’s over.”
When the team huddles up, whether for basketball or football (where Connor is the JV and Varsity water boy), Connor is always there for his team. “He’ll come running,” Shanley said. “He’s always the first guy to greet you. He’s tough on us, too. He says what he sees.” When I asked Liam what makes him Connor special, he didn’t hesitate: “His attitude no matter what, and the way he treats people. Everybody loves him!”
Nate Moulton said it puts things in perspective. “This is a game. It’s not always about winning and losing, but having fun. If there’s one thing we can all learn from Connor, whether in sports or life, it’s that we shouldn’t take things for granted. Be grateful for the opportunities we get and make the most of them when they come.”
Longtime friend Veronica Edwards summed it up. “Connor may have some shortcomings,” she said, “but his larger-than-life-charm and personality make him stand taller than the biggest man.”
He’s friends with everyone he meets, she said – even kids from competitor schools. “Because he’s never met a stranger, he has friends of all ages,” she continued.
Connor is so pleasant to be around, many families have “adopted him” into their own. “He really does have a whole village raising him,” Edwards said, “and couldn’t be more loved and supported by all.”