For the last four years, Amanda Young has been a student manager of the girls volleyball team at Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka.
Amanda never played in a game until Tuesday night in a moment that people talked about for hours and that earned a shout-out from one of her biggest fans — the coach of KU’s women’s basketball team, Brandon Schneider.
On Hayden’s senior night, Amanda walked onto the court, stood a little closer to the net than is usually allowed and sent two overhand serves flying over the net. With a little help from the girls on the other side, they were aces. Two aces. Amanda served like a boss.
The crowd cheered and clapped, loud and long.
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Amanda Young! Amanda Young! Amanda Young!
Later, she was so excited she had trouble going to sleep for the night.
It’s been quite a senior year for Terry and Mark Young’s daughter, who has Down syndrome. Hayden students, some of whom have gone to school with Amanda since grade school, elected her homecoming queen last month. It’s enough to make Terry Young cry.
“That’s what’s been so cool about Hayden,” said Young. “From the time she started there, she’s just one of them, she’s not special. She’s just one of them. And they treat her that way and she’s included.
“I wish all Down syndrome kids could have the same experience she has. Because I know a lot of kids do, but I know some ... that’s not the experience they have in high school at all.
“They let her be a part of everything, let her kind of do her thing. They love her for who she is.”
This is who Amanda is — a huge sports fan. After she was crowned queen before the homecoming football game last month, people rushed to congratulate and hug her.
Move, move, Amanda told them, I have to see kickoff.
Ask what her favorite part about homecoming was — riding in a Corvette in the parade? — and she’ll say it was watching the star player score three touchdowns.
“She is just really drawn to athletes, probably because our middle daughter played a lot of club sports and high school sports,” Young said. “She understands every sport there is, she understands the rules.”
Amanda is especially fond of KU sports. Years ago the Young family started regularly attending women’s volleyball and basketball games in Lawrence, where Amanda loves the charged-up Rock Chalk atmosphere.
She forged a particular connection with former women’s basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson, and later with Schneider, who has awarded Amanda the team’s Sixth Player award, an honor that came with a jersey, No. 6.
Schneider tweeted about Amanda’s volleyball moment on Tuesday.
At Hayden, where Amanda also student-manages the girls basketball team, “Amanda has just made our team, our school, just a better place,” said girls volleyball coach Jesica Farmer-Walter.
“She’s a great person, and we love her. And we wanted to find a way that we could give her the opportunity to be in a game.”
Farmer-Walter consulted with officials before the game and asked opposing coach Lisa Kinderknecht of Manhattan High if she’d be willing to help.
Kinderknecht, who has known Amanda for years, was happy to have her players let Amanda’s serves land at their feet.
“Everyone just embraced it, it was such a positive night,” said Farmer-Walter. “It makes you look at everything differently when you have these kinds of moments. Amanda’s a fighter. She’s a great, great kid, and she’s a good teammate. It’s going to be sad when she graduates.”
Hayden vice principal Cody Whitney, who was at the game, said Amanda’s years at the Catholic school have been a gift to the community.
“It’s an opportunity for kids to see God’s love in everybody and to see the opportunity to really find the gifts that everybody brings in life,” Whitney said.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity for our kids to grow up with Amanda because really that’s what it is. Everybody’s grown up with Amanda and have been able to see people for who they are versus the labels society puts on them.”