Trail Blazer Damian Lillard makes surprise visit to WHS

Students at Wilsonville High School capped a weeklong focus on respect with a schoolwide assembly Jan. 10 that drew a special surprise guest: Portland Trail Blazer and NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Damian Lillard addresses the WHS student body at an assembly Jan. 10.The visit tipped off the second year of the Blazers’ “Respect, Pass it on” campaign, which is co-sponsored by Les Schwab Tire Centers and Adidas. This year, the Blazers also are partnering with Special Olympics Oregon in the effort to raise awareness and respect for differences.

That’s just what the students at WHS were focusing on the week of Jan. 6, with special events and in-class projects and discussions each day.

Kierra Rowan, a senior and the school’s associated student body (ASB) president, said the school’s respect week had one simple goal.

“We are trying to make the student body more aware,” she said. “It’s been about finding respect for others and for yourself, your body and spirit.”

“Every day we’ve had a certain focus, like social media or bullying,” Christie Halverson said. She is a senior and an ASB member. “Respect has been on everyone’s mind.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Kierra Rowan, left, and Christie Halverson show off the wristbands distributed to each student at WHS.Sports played a role throughout the week, as students learned more about the school’s Unified Sports teams. Unified Sports pairs special needs athletes with general education students. The WHS Unified Sports soccer team was recognized for excellence by Special Olympics Oregon this school year, and a Unified basketball team has formed.

“Wednesday, during lunch, we played a Unified basketball game,” Rowan said. “The entire bleachers were filled with students cheering.”

“I am immensely proud of this school,” Halverson said. “After the game on Wednesday we made a tunnel, and I told my friend, ‘I am so proud of the spirit of this school.’”

At the assembly Friday, two Unified Sports athletes spoke about their experiences. Ian Bohley, a junior, plays soccer and is also a Special Olympics athlete.

Zach Holbrook, Bohley’s teammate, asked Bohley to share the best lesson he gained from playing soccer at WHS. Bohley pointed into the bleachers, where students were seated according to their grade level.

“I made a few friends, a lot of good new friends and my other new friends in the junior section,” he said to cheers.

Lillard also spoke about friendship.

“I hung out in high school with a lot of the cooler kids and had a lot of friends who weren’t in the cool crowd,” he said.

It bothered him, he said, when he noticed that many of his friends were uncomfortable around each other. The experience taught him a lifelong lesson.

“You can have a much greater impact if you can get along with everybody,” he told the students at WHS, urging them to stand up for others and to show respect for all.

“I decided when someone is being picked on, being bullied, that’s not good,” he said. “That made me say, ‘I don’t want to be a part of this.’ If one person can reach out ... one of their friends might feel comfortable doing it. If I can get all you guys to do the same thing, we can reach some more people.”

Lillard is a global ambassador with Special Olympics and has helped coach Special Olympics Unified Sports. He first became involved with the organization when he was an 18-year-old college basketball player. Although participation was required of players, enthusiasm for the task was not, and Lillard described his and his teammates’ participation as half-hearted — at first.

Seeing the younger athletes’ enthusiasm and energy caused a change of heart.

“I saw how they acted and responded to us just being there,” Lillard said. He has stayed involved with Special Olympics ever since.

He was one of the first to sign a giant banner pledging to show respect, sharing the honor with Travis Koski, a high school Special Olympian. WHS students were invited to follow the athletes’ lead, creating a permanent reminder that will hang in the school’s halls and keep students focused on respect long after the week’s PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Emilia Escobedo, a freshman, signs a banner and pledges to show respect.

“Sharing my stories goes a long way,” Lillard said. “They’re really taking it in and embracing it.”

Yoselin Gutierrez, a WHS junior, signed the banner and pledged to show respect.

“It’s really important to keep in mind,” she said, even though she does not see bullying as a big problem at the school.

Junior Maddie Finlea also agreed. Bullying is relatively rare at WHS, she said, especially compared to other schools. Still, the weeklong focus has been worthwhile.

“It’s a good reminder,” she said. “People kind of forget not to go along with (bullying). Standing up for someone is good.”

ASB provided each student with a personal reminder, a wristband printed with the word “respect.”

“We want the student body to keep it in mind,” Rowan said.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Wilsonville freshmen Anna Carr and Steve Prescott take a picture with the Trail Blazer mascot.The Trail Blazer’s “Respect, Pass it on” program launched in early 2013. To learn more or to take the respect pledge,visit the Trail Blazer’s website at People who put the pledge into action are invited to share their stories on the team website. If your story leaves a big impression, you could be invited to attend a Trail Blazers game as Lillard’s guest.

And, if you are a fan of both basketball and respect, you might consider making a lunchtime visit to the high school.

“I have heard talk of there being more Unified basketball games at lunchtime,” Halverson said.

Kate Hoots can be reach at 503-636-1281, ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow her on Twitter: @CommuniKater.

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