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September 16, 2014 | 03:33 PM
“For a couple of hours, all kids were equal on the diamond.”

That phrase caught my eye.

It was in a story by reporter Jade Bolack on the Dream Team, a group of special needs children who play softball against YMCA teams.

The team, made up mostly of students from Lakeland School, was created by John Swanson in 2001. Since then it has grown from 10 participants to 72.

“Have you ever been out here (to Veteran’s Park) during the games?” Swanson asked. “The kids are yelling and having a great time. I wanted that for the kids at Lakeland.”

Because of this and his other efforts as a volunteer, Swanson was named Citizen of the Year last Wednesday by the Geneva Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

I know John through my girlfriend, who worked with John at Lakeland School before his retirement last year.

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Because of that relationship I’ve attended several Lakeland School events over a few years; basketball games, fairs, awards ceremonies.

Every spring I attend the Lakeland School prom to take pictures for the paper.

According to my girlfriend, the students look forward to the event for weeks ahead. They choose their dates. They dress up. The girls put on makeup and get their hair done. And the boys wear their best clothes.

They walk down the brightly decorated aisle at Sperino’s surrounded by proud parents and Lakeland staff members taking pictures.

“For a couple of hours, all kids were equal …”

I was biased toward special needs kids before I ever heard of Lakeland School.

One of my daughters was a special needs student.

I remember when we thought she’d never read. And then when she did read — I remember when she first did, at the bottom of the staircase in our Janesville home.

I remember the student in her class coming to her aid as she cowered in the corner at a school dance.

And the first, and last, basket she made as a member of her parochial school basketball game.

It was on the last play of her last game.

It’s like everything; once you’ve experienced their lives, or have a personal connection, you can’t help but feel that tug in your heart.

My daughter is grown now. She has a degree and a boyfriend, lives on her own, and has a job — tending to children with special needs themselves.

She did it without John Swanson, but many others have benefited from his kindness and generous spirit.

Last summer his work with the Dream Team was recognized by the Milwaukee Brewers for the Community Achiever Award.

He threw out the first ball at Miller Park in front of more than 25,000 fans.

He practiced with his son prior to the events.

“I’ve been in Miller Park many, many times but I never realized how big it was until I got on that field,” he said. “It’s gigantic.”

The height of the mound was daunting.

“It was 18 inches,” Swanson said. “You never think it’s that high but it was higher than I’d been practicing.”

Several bounces later his first pitch reached home.

The audience at the Riviera wasn’t nearly as large Wednesday night when he was honored.

When my girlfriend and I saw Swanson, we didn’t know he had won the award.

He asked about us and our health.

That’s the best part of Swanson.

His humble demeanor wouldn’t allow for bragging rights.

With Swanson, it really is all about the kids.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

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