Twin brothers shared a fist bump, big smiles and eyes filled with wonder at midcourt of Gainesville High’s gym. It was about something much bigger than basketball.
Cooper House had just found out the Make-A-Wish Foundation was granting his wish to go to Disney World, and Charlie House, his 8-year-old twin, was soaking in the moment with him as their parents and other family and friends cheered.
Moments earlier, the North Hall and Gainesville cheerleaders and girls basketball teams had formed a tunnel for Cooper, the son of North Hall girls coach Kristi House, to walk through to receive the news in the middle of the Red Elephants’ basketball court before the schools’ varsity games.
Leading up to the announcement, Cooper and Charlie kept asking questions. Why weren’t they sitting in their normal spot behind the Lady Trojans’ bench? Why were so many people from their church on hand for the game, and why were they more dressed up than usual?
Rodney House, the boys’ father and House’s husband, deftly kept providing answers that didn’t give away the surprise.
Eventually, Cooper knew something festive was happening.
“He thought there was a big party going on,” Rodney said. “But he didn’t know the party was for him. That was pretty cool.”
Cooper was born with congenital heart disease and has had five open heart surgeries, the most recent of which came last summer. He has a pacemaker and artificial valve in his heart.
Seeing such an event, where the organization told the boys and their parents they’d be spending a week in Florida, was special for Kristi.
“I’m really excited for him. He’s been through a lot, and our family’s been through a lot,” Kristi said. “So I think it will be just something good for us, and we’re really just blown away by the kindness of the foundation to do that for our family.”
Cooper posed for pictures, partook of cookie cake and high-fived a friend in the midst of the celebration. His favorite Disney character, who he hopes to run across on the trip, is Baymax from the recent release “Big Hero 6.”
Cooper had no idea about the surprise, but once he got to midcourt and saw everything unfold around him, he reached a thrilling conclusion.
“I thought that I was going to get my wish,” Cooper said.
Gainesville girls basketball coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore said she realizes some people think the schools’ coaches hate each other because of the rivalry.
Hill-Gilmore said that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“That’s really not the case. We’re really good friends,” she said. “We hang out in the summertime. We go to each other’s houses. We love each other’s kids. And when Kristi asked us if we’d mind doing it, we didn’t have to think about it. To us coaches, we’re family.”
Kristi House echoed that sentiment.
“It was great also for the community to see us all working together,” the North Hall coach said. “People get the idea that we don’t all get along, but really we’re all just pulling for the same kids. We’re just trying to give kids good experiences on the court.”
More than anything else, Kristi is simply grateful Cooper is doing well and able to look forward to the trip.
“It’s really amazing,” Kristi said. “You know, 20 years ago, he probably still wouldn’t be with us. With what they’re able to do medically, we’re just blessed.”
Another blessing, one that involves the likes of Mickey Mouse, awaits for the House family in March, after basketball season is finished.
Not a day goes by that Cooper doesn’t talk about what the group will do at Disney World, according to Rodney. The father doesn’t know who recommended them for a wish.
“We’re very, very thankful,” Rodney said.
Long after the trip is over, Rodney, Kristi and many others will remember the moment the brothers shared at midcourt. It’s something Hill-Gilmore is glad her players were able to witness.
“For them to be able to see that and see the look on Cooper and Charlie’s face when they got that wish of going to Disney World was just priceless,” the coach said.