The varsity girls basketball team at Fredericton High School honoured not only their graduating players at their last home game of the season, they also honoured their graduating manager.
Even though Emma Hodgson goes to Leo Hayes High School, she has been the manager at FHS for the past three years.
"We call her the best manager in the world. That is one of her titles," said coach Kevin Daley.
"She's our go-to cheergirl. She looks after us for any timeouts, post-game, pre-game."
Her mother, Dianne Hodgson, says she first became part of the Black Kats after a bad day at school. Emma has Down syndrome, and just like any high school student, bad days can happen.
"One day she came home off the bus really upset, and I was speaking with my daughter about it and telling her how upset she was and then she was speaking with her coach's daughter, Kelsey Daley and they felt for Emma so she then spoke to her father about it," said Dianne Hodgson.
"Next thing I get a phone call from her father wondering if she would like to help out with the team and be the team manager."
In a heartbeat, Emma said yes. She has been around basketball her whole life, attending her sister's games while growing up.
During the summer, Emma was outside practising her shot. She loves the game, and is confident about her skills.
"I love basketball because I'm really good at it," said Emma.
Fit in with team
Emma fit in quickly on the team. Daley remembers the first practice she attended as the team manager. She wanted to participate in one of the drills.
"We have a drill she could do and the very first pass, catch, and shoot she made a three, so for that to happen was just awesome," said Daley.
The team gave her a sense of belonging, something all teenagers search for. For her mother, it meant the world.
"For me it means that it doesn't matter what disability you have in life, that you can be accepted regardless of that. And she doesn't look at herself as being any different then them, and it's quite amazing to watch."
But Emma and her family weren't the only ones who benefited from Emma's role on the team.
As team manager, she does more than fill up water bottles and lead the team in cheers. She also gives the team speeches.
"I'll say, have a good game, and have a good time," said Emma.
Speeches honest, lift spirits
Madison Owens is in her final year with the Black Kats, and has heard many of Emma's speeches. She says the speeches are honest and help lift the team's spirits.
"She usually says how much she loves being our manager and how much she loves the team. She usually tells us if we lost that she is a little upset but she still loves us," said Owens.
"One time it was a really close game and I think we pulled out the win and I just remember her saying, 'Guys even though we won I'm still proud of you.' I will never forget it."
Owens says Emma brings an energy the team can feed off of, and in a close game, extra energy can make the difference. She also provides encouragement that Daley can't give out, at least not like Emma can.
"What Emma does quite often is tell everyone how much she loves the game of basketball and then that brings home sometimes after practices and four or five days of practices and travel and the kids might be saying, 'Oh I'm getting tired' and then all of a sudden she'll say how much she loves them and how much she loves the game of basketball and that she wishes she could play and that she loves being a Black Kat," said Daley.
"That kind of says, oh wow, and it puts it in perspective."
Honoured by team
On senior appreciation night, as FHS played their last home game of the season Emma was recognized as a graduate.
"I just knew about it a few minutes before it happened and she didn't know about it at all so when it was going to be announced that she was going to be presented with the flowers for being the manager for the last three years and I remember looking around, just the face was red with tears in her eyes and she couldn't believe it. It was a nice moment," said Dianne Hodgson.
Emma also said it was a special moment for her.
"I was very nervous," said Emma.
"I started crying."
Though Emma is graduating, she isn't done with basketball. She will still stay on as team manager. It's something Emma, her mother, and Daley don't want to see end anytime soon.