Between cliques, peer pressure, and bullying, high school is often a difficult time for teenagers. It’s a lot to handle. But because young people can face so much adversity, one bright spot can make all the difference.
For many kids in Keller, Texas, Max Akin was that bright spot. While it would’ve been easy for him to settle into the role of a snotty popular kid, he went out of his way to form an incredible friendship that brought the entire community together as one.
Even at a high school as exceptional as Fossil Ridge, Max Akin stood out. For one thing, he was always willing to help out his classmates, giving them the support they need to shine. But his talents weren’t limited to selflessness either.
He led the football team as the starting quarterback, propelling the Panthers throughout a successful 2016 campaign. He had all the tools he needed: he could throw way downfield, scramble away from defenders, and keep his cool during tense moments.
While other guys in his position would be stuck up and conceited, Max understood that playing good football wasn’t the most important thing in life. Instead, he valued contributing to his community and making new friends — especially with those who were different from him.
One of Max’s closest pals at Fossil Ridge was K.L. Norwood, though they were very different people. Although these guys were in the same class, K.L. dealt with challenges each day that Max couldn’t imagine.
Born prematurely, K.L. was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at just a few weeks old. Doctors doubted he would survive the year. But K.L. persevered. Despite his condition, he became known as one of the friendliest students in Fossil Ridge.
Despite his passion for sports, K.L.’s health prevented him from playing at a varsity level. After a bit of asking around, however, he figured out that he could still be part of a team in a very big way.
He became the manager of the football team! He took charge of keeping practices running smoothly and managing the sideline during every game. K.L. quickly established himself as a fixture of the Panthers squad.
Though some starting quarterbacks wouldn’t give the time of day to a manager, K.L. and Max bonded over the years. By the time they were seniors, just about everyone knew these two were best friends.
On and off the field, Max and K.L. were bringing out the best in each other. Both were big about encouraging positivity in their school — a valiant feat for often-petty teenagers. However, Max worried that one upcoming event might tear them apart.
Homecoming weekend was coming up that fall. For most students, the big game, dance, and other festivities were a highlight of the year. Max, on the other hand, saw it as a source of major anxiety.
During the homecoming game, Fossil Ridge would announce that year’s Homecoming King and Queen. Because these honors were voted on by the student body, Max suspected that he was the prime candidate for the honor — just because he played football.
Max certainly wasn’t afraid of being at the center of attention, but he felt the Homecoming crown should go to someone who really deserved it. Max stayed up late making a video he debuted a week before homecoming.
Catching everyone by surprise, Max urged his classmates to vote for K.L.! His unconventional approach had a strong start, as the school announced that K.L. made the finals. But Max was a finalist as well!
Early in the homecoming game, the Panthers pulled out to a comfortable lead. The only thing that was on Max’s mind was halftime when the crown would go to the King and Queen. When the clock rolled down, he joined the other “court” members on the field.
With all the finalists lined up, Fossil Ridge announced the winners. Max’s heart dropped when the loudspeaker announced he won Homecoming King. He begrudgingly accepted the crown and took some photos, and then a bright idea popped into his head.
Max walked over to K.L., knelt down like a medieval servant, and bestowed the crown to his friend. A hush fell over the stadium before the packed Fossil Ridge went wild. But why did Max believe so strongly that K.L. should be King?
Well, he simply thought his friend didn’t get enough credit for bringing people together. “I think [the crown] should’ve gone to the person who positively uplifts the school and everybody around him,” Max said, “and that person is K.L., for sure.”
Following Max’s kind gesture, the rest of the weekend was a blast. Fossil Ridge rocked their homecoming dance, and K.L., in particular, was over the moon to be at the center of it all. They weren’t the only ones who savored the moment either.
Ellen DeGeneres caught wind of the incredible friendship, and she invited Max and K.L. to appear on her show. Not only did these pals get a big moment in the spotlight, but Ellen also gave each of them $10,000 for college!
The Fossil Ridge seniors all went their separate ways later that year, but Max and K.L. gave them a moment to cherish forever. They learned that popularity can come and go, but real friendship is capable of bringing everyone together.
Needless to say, being a teenager is one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. So standing out in high school isn’t always ideal. For Kaitlyn Berthiaume, however, standing out was pretty much her game.
See, entering her senior year at Messalonskee High School, the 17-year-old had so much to look forward to. Kaitlyn was very close to her classmates and very well-liked at her small, rural school in Oakland, Maine.
It was almost impossible not to like Kaitlyn. She was hard-working and extremely passionate, especially when it came to her love of cheerleading. Going into her final year of high school, she expected this to be the best season for the squad.
The only problem was there was no squad. Before summer was even over, it became apparent that Kaitlyn was the only girl signed up to cheer that year. She could hardly believe it. All those bright stadium lights had just gone out on her.
While some girls might cheer just for the social aspect, Kaitlyn was truly passionate about the sport. As she swallowed the initial disappointment of the squad-less squad, she now had to face a big decision— to cheer or not to cheer?
As it turns out, this wasn’t a tough decision at all for Kaitlyn. Squad or no squad, she was not going to miss out on her senior year of cheer. If standing alone in front of the entire school was what she needed to do, then that was exactly what she would do!
Funny enough, Messalonskee High School actually retained two cheer coaches, Annie Dobos, and Maila Couture. This meant that not only was Kaitlyn acting as an entire cheerleading squad, but she was also outnumbered by her coaches!
Still, this didn’t deter anyone from supporting Kaitlyn’s solo squad. Coach Dobos and coach Couture were all in for training Kaitlyn for the season. In fact, because there was only one girl to coach, Kaitlyn got a lot of attention, which she matched by taking her training very seriously.
As the first football game approached, Kaitlyn’s confidence began to waver. In theory, continuing the cheer squad was allowing her to do what she loved; but in practice, it still meant standing totally alone in front of a giant crowd.
Not one to back down, Kaitlyn had to trust that her spirit would carry her. The night of the first game, the solitary cheerleader walked out on the turf in front of coaches, teachers, and peers. Little did she know, she wasn’t really the only cheerleader out there that night.
Word had spread around town about the girl who was taking on a season of cheer all by herself. Students and parents alike were in awe of Kaitlyn’s feat and wanted to show their support for her bravery. And how do you show support for a cheerleader?
Cheer! That’s right, not only were the students of Messalonskee High School familiar with all the cheers, many of the parents were, too. As Kaitlyn kicked off the game with some school spirit, the stadium erupted in enthusiastic echoes.
It seems fitting that the school mascot was an eagle, a symbol of courage, strength, and power. This was exactly what Kaitlyn now represented, not only to Messalonskee, but to the entire community. Talk about a leader!
Many parents commended Kaitlyn’s confidence, telling local news she was truly an inspiration. But no one was a bigger cheerleader for Kaitlyn than her mom, Kim. When Kim first found out Kaitlyn was going to be Cheering alone her senior year, she said, “my heart just sank.”
Kim knew how much her daughter loved to cheer and the thought of her standing up in front of a crowd alone, understandably, conjured up motherly concerns. Kaityln’s confidence and positive attitude were contagious, and Kim couldn’t stand to see her daughter lose this part of herself to discouragement.
But as Kaitlyn nervously stood up on game night, what really stood out was her unassailable resilience. Kim couldn’t have been more proud of her daughter. Both of her parents were completely in awe of their little cheerleader.
While Kaitlyn’s cheering obviously caught the attention of locals, many news outlets were also impressed by her story and flocked to know more about the solo cheerer. What they found out, though, wasn’t much of a surprise…
Everyone loved Kaitlyn! Her dad might have said it best when he told Inside Edition, “It’s very, very emotional and very, very inspiring.” If a 17-year-old can stand alone for what she loves, then we all can. That is something everyone can cheer for.
Sometimes it takes a whole community to carry a teenager through a tough time. Just about everyone in North Andover, Massachusetts, knew Erin Cox was a star. The 17-year-old had a bright future ahead of her, but one fateful night in 2013 threatened everything she worked for.
Word spread throughout North Andover High School about a huge party going down that weekend. There would be no parents, no rules. However, Erin decided right away that she wasn’t going to attend.
After all, it was right in the middle of volleyball season! As the captain, Erin needed to keep her wits about her. Plus, if the party turned out as wild as everyone said, some serious trouble could arise.
Instead, Erin spent a quiet night at home, but her peace of mind vanished when her cell phone chirped out of the blue. The volleyball star got a text from a friend at the big party. She needed Erin’s help — badly.
Without telling her parents, Erin sped over and saw that the party indeed lived up to the hype. Teenagers packed the house, and there was alcohol everywhere. But where was the friend who called her?
Flickr / AnarchyWithoutAdjectives
Erin finally located her friend, but she was in rough shape. She couldn’t even work up the strength to get in Erin’s car and ride home, so Erin had to wait for her to recover. Erin nervously looked around as the party grew rowdier and more out of control.
The good mood evaporated when the whine of police sirens approached. A number of partygoers fled, but Erin couldn’t leave her friend alone. She gulped as officers entered the house and scoped out the empty cans that littered the floor.
Having busted their fair share of parties, the police knew underage drinkers when they saw them. They arrested eight North Andover students, though Erin was not among them. However, they weren’t done with yet…
Other students told police that Erin — the last person anyone expected to get in trouble — had in fact shown up at the party. It was bad enough when authorities informed her she would receive a court summons. Then, the school punished her too.
North Andover High School didn’t just suspend Erin. They also went after her volleyball credentials, banning her for the next five games and stripping away her captaincy. Suddenly, everything she worked for was gone.
The decision broke the heart of Erin’s mom, Eleanor. She felt the athletic suspension was excessive and unfair — wasn’t her daughter simply trying to help a friend in need? Eleanor opened up the phone book to find a good lawyer.
Eleanor got in touch with experienced attorney Wendy Murphy, who took on Erin’s case. Wendy said that she wanted to do more than just challenge the school’s decision with a lawsuit; she wanted to take Erin’s story public.
After all, the school went far beyond giving Erin a slap on the wrist. As an aspiring college volleyball player, every game counted toward making her dream come true. Aside from that, had she really done anything wrong?
Wendy honed in on North Andover superintendent Kevin Hutchinson’s judgment. She characterized his stance on underage drinking as a “zero tolerance” policy. In addition to the rule itself being unfair, no one actually said Erin consumed alcohol at the party.
Police officer Brian Neeley chimed in to support Erin’s defense. He said she “was polite, articulate, steady on her feet, and very remorseful for her decision to go into the residence but was only helping a friend out that had called her for a ride.”
Wicked Local Photo / Kathryn O’Brien
Furthermore, Wendy argued Erin’s discipline violated Title IX guidelines, which banned gender discrimination in educational settings. Specifically, male athletes in Erin’s class broke similar rules, and their punishments were nowhere near as severe.
North Andover Public Schools
Wendy implored North Andover to reconsider their policies, as Erin only showed up at the party to come to her friend’s aid. To Wendy, it seemed clear that Erin’s name needed to be cleared.
After all, did the school really want to encourage their students to drive drunk rather than break the rules? By doing this to Erin, the administration was setting a dangerous precedent.
All eyes turned to Judge Kevin Gaffney. The resulting decision shocked everyone. Gaffney ended up tossing out the entire case. Erin would simply have to wait out her suspension and hope for the best when it came time for college recruitment.
Eagle Tribune / Amanda Sabga
Weeks later, Erin finally made her grand return to the court. She felt stunned when a huge wave of applause greeted her. Through it all, the North Andover community stuck by her side. Erin only hoped the controversy wouldn’t hurt her volleyball career.
Erin rediscovered her groove almost immediately. As a matter of fact, she stood out the rest of the season and accomplished her number one goal: the next year, she earned a spot on the Southern New Hampshire University team! No judge could take that away from her.
Sports aren’t just a hobby or after school activity. For some kids, playing sports becomes their whole world, and any threat to take that away from them is taken very seriously. That’s why Erin took her volleyball battle to court, and it’s why one little girl from California took her love of basketball to the pros…
At 9 years old, Riley Morrison from Napa, California, had already fallen in love with sports. In 2018, her love for one team — and one player in particular — catapulted her into the national spotlight.
You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger basketball fan than Riley. She had a hoop at home she took shots on — often by herself, rain or shine — and played point guard for her school’s team.
Living in northern California, Riley came to love watching her Golden State Warriors thrash their NBA competition. She and her dad Chris rarely ever missed a game, whether they watched on TV or cheered in person at the Warrior’s Oracle Arena.
And for a student and lover of basketball, the Warriors were a delight to watch. As someone who wanted to perfect her point guard game, Riley had one player she admired most…
Steph Curry! The Warriors’ star point guard has collected a trophy case full of NBA championships and MVP awards. He’s arguably the most exciting player in basketball — unless you’re a LeBron James fan, of course.
Watching the Warriors star tear up the court, Riley wanted to be just like Steph. She couldn’t play like him just yet — that would take a growth spurt and a lot more practice — but there was one way she could mimic her idol’s game.
In November of 2018, she decided to step into Steph’s shoes (literally). Riley had her heart set on a pair of his signature kicks, the Icon Curry 5 sneakers produced by the sporting gear giant Under Armour. Unfortunately, her heart broke later that day.
Seeing that the online store hawked all kinds of Curry swag, Riley eagerly scrolled through the website. It sold tons of different colors and patterns of the Curry 5’s, but Riley noticed a disappointing detail.
The shoe variety ended with color and pattern. Riley could not find a single pair of the shoes in girls’ sizes. This revelation was tough for the 9-year-old to swallow.
Riley only wanted to emulate her idol by buying his sneakers, and yet she couldn’t — all because of her gender. Sure, Riley knew this wasn’t the worst discrimination women had faced, but it seemed unthinkable in this day and age.
Meanwhile, even the dopiest boy basketball players could get their hands on any pair of shoes they wanted. Riley realized that other girls must have found themselves in the same predicament. She decided to do something about it.
In a gutsy move, Riley chose to go straight to the man himself. She penned a heartfelt letter to Steph Curry detailing her experience and asking for a change. As a big fan, she felt confident that Curry would agree with her based on his personal background.
Riley’s letter read like this: “Dear Stephen Curry. My name is Riley (just like your daughter)…I asked my dad to buy me the new Curry 5s because I am starting a new basketball season).” Clearly, she’d done her research!
Wayne Freedman / Twitter
For one thing, Steph is a proud father to two daughters, one of whom does indeed share Riley’s name! The basketball phenom often brings them to NBA events, and he has publicly advocated for a better future for girls their age. Her letter continued.
NBA / Andrew Bernstein
“I visited the website,” she wrote. “And was disappointed there were no Curry 5s for sale under the girl’s section. However, they did have them for sale under the boy’s section, even to customize.” She wasn’t finished.
“I know you support girl athletes because you have two daughters and you host an all-girls basketball camp.” She signed off with a simple note: “Girls want to rock the Curry 5s, too.”
Clearly, Riley understood her audience perfectly. Curry had once said, “I want [my daughters] to grow up in a world where their gender does not feel like a rulebook for what they should think, or be, or do. And I want them to grow up believing that they can dream big, and strive for careers where they’ll be treated fairly.”
That’s why Steph indeed founded an all-girls basketball camp. Always looking to provide young women with more opportunities to succeed, he is an athlete who uses his public platform for good. But would he even read some random fan letter?
As luck would have it, Riley’s letter made it on to social media channels; there, people sympathetic to Riley’s troubles helped push the letter to Steph’s various pages.
Bob Donnan / USA TODAY Sports
That was how Stephen Curry, busy as he was in the thick of an NBA season, received Riley’s letter. He read the hand-written letter over and digested all it had to say.
And he was completely mortified about his shoes’ biased availability. It seemed Riley was right to suspect that her idol really did care about the women’s issues he fought so hard for! Steph knew he had to do something.
Ray Chavez / Bay Area News Group
He called up his management, and they discussed how to right this biased wrong. A few moments on the phone was all it took for the NBA superstar to come up with the perfect solution to Riley’s dilemma…
“We are correcting this now!” Steph said before sitting down with some pen and paper of his own. This way, he could deliver a truly personal response to Riley.
Still in a funk a couple days later, Riley slunk back home from school. However, her parents dropped a huge surprise on her. A smile quickly returned to Riley’s face as she read over a handwritten response from Steph Curry.
In the letter, the Warriors phenom said that he was working with Under Armour to correct the sizing issue, and he thanked Riley for bringing the issue to his attention. He also wanted to reward his super-fan for taking such a bold stand.
Twitter / Steph Curry
Steph promised Riley that he’d send her a pair of Curry 5s very soon, but he didn’t stop there. He also pledged that Riley would be one of the first kids in the world to get the Steph Curry 6s, his latest shoe model. Nobody on Earth owned it yet!
What a huge victory for Riley! With the sick kicks in hand and the assurance that Curry’s shoes would be available in all sizes, she could have rested easy. But Steph then posed an unexpected question for her.
To cap it all off, he asked Riley to join him on court in Oakland for International Women’s Day! The Warriors would celebrate girl power and the unifying nature of sports during that game. Steph couldn’t think of any better representative than the brave nine-year-old.
Reuters / Kim Kyung-Hoon
Of course, Riley accepted the invitation without a second thought. She could hardly believe the incredible impact her letter had, but as it turned out, there was still more good to come.
As all kids know, whether you’re naughty or nice, it shows up under the tree. However, this year it wasn’t Santa that delivered the ultimate gift.
On Christmas morning two boxes were waiting under the tree that read “To: Riley From: Steph Curry!” Just as promised, Riley got the first-ever pair of the Steph Curry 6 shoes for GIRLS! And she wasn’t the only one who got something…
Steph certainly got a lot of satisfaction from the experience too. Riley allowed him to make a real difference for his family and women everywhere. Steph has heard tons of supporters applaud him over the years. But this time around, the superstar was clapping for a fan.