By Christopher Tenpenny
There was no question who was going to be the 2022 Courtwarming Queen at Drexel. Although she has never attended a class in Drexel, Hope Richardson is still considered part of the class and was the unanimous choice to reign as the school’s winter queen.
Although Richardson is enrolled at Drexel, she has cerebral palsy and microcephaly which requires her to attend classes at Briarwood in Harrisonville due to her specific needs. She has never attended a class at Drexel, but this did not stop her classmates from including her.
“When the idea first came up, I called a senior meeting and everyone was really supportive of it,” Drexel senior Shayn Smith said. “We voted and it wasn’t even a question, everyone unanimously voted to do it.”
Between the boys’ and girls’ doubleheader basketball games on Feb. 15, Richardson was walked out to mid-court by her father Craig Richardson and the courtwarming king, Dylan Fillinger.
“Hallelujah” by Ryan Wainwright and “Let it Be” by the Beatles played as she made her way down the court. Those who know Richardson, know these are her favorite songs and keeps her focused.
“For a group of kids to decide to do this is amazing,” Craig Richardson said. “I can’t even put this into words. Hope may not know exactly what’s going in, but this is special for my family.”
When Hope reached mid-court, she was presented with flowers and a basketball.
“She likes to play basketball with her siblings, so instead of just flowers we decided to give her a basketball,” Smith said. “I drew a crown on it and the girls’ basketball team, which her younger sister is on, signed it.”
Richardson’s younger sister, Izzy, had just finished playing and could be seen shedding tears of happiness while her older sister was being crowned. Hope has been an honorary member of the girls’ basketball team all season when head coach Josh Gordon gave her a medal and Drexel Basketball t-shirt following Drexel’s first-place finish in the William D. Gordon Tournament Dec. 30.
There was a time in Hope’s life where this moment may not have seemed possible. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and microcephaly at a young age and the doctors said she might not live past five years old according to her father. Cerebral palsy is a disorder which affects Richardson’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Microcephaly is a rare condition which stunts the growth of the skull and brain. She is non-verbal.
“You can start to go to a dark place,” Craig said. “You start thinking about all the won’ts and can’ts. How I won’t be able to walk her down the aisle or watch her play sports. So again, for her to have this movement is something we will always remember.”
Richardson said they had close to 40 family members present for the courtwarming crowning, but it may have been fewer had it not been for a snowstorm. Courtwarming was originally supposed to be at the end of January, but due to snow, it was canceled and moved to Feb. 15 against Midway. Hope had attended elementary school at Midway and the girls’ basketball team is coached by her uncle, Jesse Richardson.
“When you talk about strong willed people and fatherhood, I think of Hope and my brother,” Jesse said. “Just what they’ve gone through and the resiliency they’ve shown, it’s special. It brought tears to my eyes. For a community to accept, not only Hope, but Izzy and my brother and the rest of the family, is huge. I can’t even put into words how happy and excited I was for them to have that moment.”
As Richardson was being announced Courtwarming Queen, a write-up of her favorite things was read which mostly included her love for food.
“She may not look it, but that girl can out-eat most people I know,” Craig said. “She’s always waiting for her next meal. When she gets off the bus from school, it seems like you don’t need someone there with her because she’s running up to the door for food.”
Richardson also enjoys playing catch and dribbling the basketball. She’s said to have quite the accurate throwing arm.
While there are ups and downs with a child with special needs, Craig said Hope’s happiness is a reminder for everyone “There are of course some tough days, but there’s a ton of benefits,” he said. “It offers perspective. Hope is going through what she’s going through every day and still always has a smile on her face. It reminds us that if she can go through her day happily, then we can get through whatever kind of day we are having.”