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Pink-Out pep rally brings Waukegan High and SEDOL students together

Kieran VanKrey 10 an intermediate student Laremont School makes basket with his teacher assistant Ashley Martinez (left) as Jachai Taylor

Kieran VanKrey, 10, an intermediate student at Laremont School, makes a basket with his teacher assistant Ashley Martinez (left) as Jachai Taylor a Junior on the Waukegan High School basketball team provides the basket after a pep rally put on by Waukegan High School basketball players, cheerleaders, poms, Army JROTC Drill Team, and the pep band for the SEDOL students at Laremont School.

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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:22AM

Four years after Waukegan High School students first joined their peers at the Special Education District of Lake County for a Pink-Out pep rally, the occasion has started to take on the comforts of tradition.

On Thursday, at the Laremont School gym, SEDOL students from elementary through high-school age were treated to performances by Waukegan’s pep band and cheerleading squad. Members of the boys basketball team ran onto the court and put on a show. The Junior ROTC Drill Team fell into formation and stepped through a routine.

But for many observers — most of them clad in the pink T-shirts that give the event its name — the highlight came at the end of the formal program, when students from both ends of the county spent more than 20 minutes meeting and greeting one another.

“What I’ve noticed is the interaction time — that’s what’s really grown,” said Jim Ross, a SEDOL instructor who has organized the Pink-Outs for the Waukegan Basketball Parents Association since February 2011.

“The Waukegan kids are looking for our kids,” said SEDOL special projects coordinator Glenda Mill as members of the pep band handed their drumsticks over to children in wheelchairs and players formed hoops with their arms for younger students to shoot baskets.

“How easy it now is — it’s just amazing,” Ross said. “They just realize that we’re all one. They have that common bond that ‘we’re all students, we just go to different schools.’ It’s just awesome.”

The contingent of more than 100 Waukegan students was joined by students from all SEDOL schools from grades one through 12 and ages 4 through 21. Along with Laremont School, students came in from the district’s Early Childhood program and the Language and Social Skills Opportunities (LASSO) program, which includes autistic children who are housed on the Gages Lake campus.

The growing history of the Pink-Out dates to Waukegan’s 2010 run through to the Illinois High School Association’s State Finals, when players wore pink warm-up shirts in support of breast cancer research.

Every February since then, the Waukegan Public School district has hosted sales of pink T-shirts to raise funds for the fight against cancer. The Great Waukegan Pink-Out effort peaked last year when more than $9,100 was collected, the second-highest total in the state among schools participating in the American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer project, which is also the recipient of this year’s fundraising.

According to Ross, Waukegan’s 2013-14 campaign has raised around $5,000 to date, and a goal of $6,000 is within reach with the arrival of Friday night’s annual Pink Out game. As the name implies, the idea is to have pink-wearing fans dominate the atmosphere at the Washington Campus gymnasium for a designated game, which in this case is against Glenbrook South at 7 p.m.

Enjoying his inaugural Pink-Out experience pep rally was first-year coach Mike Wasielewski, who took in the sight of his players playing catch with SEDOL students.

“It’s a cool event,” Wasielewski said. “I think as much as we put on a little bit of entertainment for them, our guys learn a lot more from the experience. It’s a great experience for our kids. About six or seven (players) were here last year, and they were really looking forward to it.”

The Pink-Out shirts sported by participants on Thursday will remain on sale Friday for $10 at the school’s Brookside and Washington campus bookstores. For more information, call (847) 336-3100 or visit the Great Waukegan Pink-Out page on Facebook.

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