UofL coach sprouts kindness on World Down Syndrome Day

UofL coach takes time to help children with Down Syndrome

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Millions of people spent this day raising money and awareness for World Down Syndrome Day. Among them were children at a Louisville preschool and a guy that you could say is a little bit busy this week.

That guy is Jeff Walz, the University of Louisville women’s head basketball coach, whose team has its first NCAA tournament match-up Friday. But Walz decided to take a few minutes out to remind us all that it’s okay to be different.

At Sproutlings Pediatric Day Care and pre-school, some cute, funny and kind little ones are sporting some serious fashion: Mismatched socks for World Down Syndrome Day.

Mary Beth Norton is the parent of a child with Down Syndrome.
Mary Beth Norton is the parent of a child with Down Syndrome. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

“There’s three pairs of the 21st Chromosome, so that’s March 21st,” explained Mary Beth Norton, mother of a Down Syndrome child.

Down Chromosomes, Norton said, look like socks.

Her 3 year old son Allen, who lives with Down Syndrome, loves his classmates. Some have disabilities, some don’t. When we asked 5-year-old Carlos Zambrano if he ever noticed the children’s differences, he answered “No.”

And that’s exactly what the Down Syndrome Day hashtag, #Rockyoursocks, is all about.

"To kind of highlight, you don't have to be alike to be friends," Norton said.

#Rockyoursocks is the Down Syndrome Day hashtag
#Rockyoursocks is the Down Syndrome Day hashtag (Source: WAVE 3 News)

On a whim, Norton, the former UofL Head of Basketball Operations, asked friends on Facebook to be a sponsor for socks as part of a Down Syndrome fundraiser, but she wasn’t quite there.

Norton told us, “My former boss, Coach Walz, reached out and said, ‘How can I help?’ and I said, ‘well, I don’t want to ask for too much, but we have 75 kids at Sproutlings that we still need socks for.’”

Norton said the reply from Walz was, “I’m in.”

Socks were chosen to represent Down Syndrome because the Down Chromosomes look like socks.
Socks were chosen to represent Down Syndrome because the Down Chromosomes look like socks. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

Walz knows Allen is one of his team’s biggest fans. That’s why a mystery reader (Walz) showed up to the daycare to surprise Allen’s classmates reading the book, “It’s Okay to be Different.”

Walz smiled as he walked in, picking up Allen and putting him on his lap. The kids loved hearing from a coach who knows what it’s like to be different.

"Growing up myself, being a stutterer, it was challenging at times. There are a lot of people who make fun of you, or tease you," Walz said. "I tell people all the time, get to know people, get to know what's inside of them."

Walz laughed with the children reading a passage in “It’s Okay to be Different” about it’s OK to eat macaroni in the bathtub. A big roar of laughter began.

The children who are big fans with big differences sent Walz off with a gift bag of presents for good luck. Walz also gave Allen a fist pump, “Blow it up, Go Cards.”

Money raised by Sproutlings goes to the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network. Walz said he wants to bring the team to the school after the tournament.

Allen and a few of his buddies plan to be cheering the UofL Women on Friday during their first tournament game at the KFC Yum! Center.

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