WHITEHALL — Nine-year-old Ira Rozell is the same age Codie Bascue was when he started racing bobsleds.
That fact is not lost on the Whitehall fourth-grader, who said he is inspired by Bascue, a Whitehall native who will compete in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea this month.
“That’s a tough thing to do,” Ira said. “He had to work very hard for it. He had to earn what he did. He didn’t just let everyone do it for him. He had to do it himself.”
The students at Whitehall Elementary School have been buzzing in recent weeks since Bascue was named to the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team. Teachers have been putting up Olympics-inspired bulletin boards, one featuring Bascue’s practice bobsled from high school, his uniform and helmet and medals he has won.
A banner featuring Bascue’s picture hangs at the entrance of the building, and art students have been drawing pictures of bobsleds, some of which will be sent to Bascue.
“It would be cool,” said first-grader Mason Heckman, 6, if Bascue received his bobsled artwork.
“He would thank us,” added his classmate Max Hollister, 6.
Max said he would like to be an Olympic wrestler someday and knows he has to be strong like Bascue to attain his goal.
“Dad always asks me if I lose a wrestling match, what am I going to do?” Max said. “I always tell him I’m just going to get over it and keep doing it.”
Bascue has turned into a celebrity and role model in the small Washington County town. The local community has banded together to hang banners and post lawn signs around the town supporting its very first Olympian.
But perhaps the biggest effect has been on the students, who are starting to understand that an Olympian once walked the same halls at Whitehall Elementary.
“I might be able to go to the World Series,” said fourth-grader Khloe Paddock, 9, who loves to play softball.
The students have been watching videos of Bascue in the art room and interviews with the bobsledder.
“I think some of them may still not get it,” said art teacher Heather Gordon. “But when I say that he sat in these art chairs, he had art in this room, some of them are pretty amazed, pretty in awe.”
Physical education teacher Pam Putorti taught Bascue when he was an elementary student.
“It’s so funny, because as a child, as a student, he was happy to let other kids shine and he kind of took the back seat,” Putorti said. “He was very soft-spoken; he was very mild-mannered. He had that athletic ability, but he didn’t put it out there for everybody to see. He was very quiet and very humble.”
She said the students consider Bascue a “huge role model,” a concept the teachers who knew him are happy to endorse.
“He’s got the kids so inspired to really reach for the stars,” Putorti said. “He’s shown them that if you put your mind to it and with hard work and dedication, you can accomplish a goal that you’ve set for yourself.”
As first-graders bounced basketballs around her, Putorti said she gets goose bumps just talking about Bascue’s rise to the Olympics.
She helped design the bulletin board that contains Bascue’s personal items like the helmet, uniform and medals.
“We were really blown away by what the family contributed,” she said. “We never expected medals to be hanging on our bulletin board. We never expected a suit that he actually wore or a helmet that he actually wore. Kids, especially this age, need that visual.”
Third-grader Angeline St. Claire, 8, pointed out her bobsled drawing that is displayed on another bulletin board in the elementary school. She said she may someday be an Olympian in soccer, basketball, swimming or softball.
“He’s the only Whitehall person that’s ever gotten into the Olympics,” she beamed.
Whitehall High School guidance counselor Topher Montville said Bascue is a positive role model who has brought the Whitehall community together and taught kids a life lesson about small-town kids and their ability to succeed.
“Sport is meant to be the neutralizer,” Montville said. “And in a world right now that is so divided in so many different ways, it’s nice to be able to see how if you put your mind to something and you’re dedicated to something and if you ignore the noise, you can actually do great things.”
Montville has organized an event to livestream the Olympics at the school. The high school auditorium, lobby and cafeteria will be open to the community for both the 2-man and 4-man events on four different days, starting Feb. 18.
There will be limited supplies of “Golden Medallion Pancakes” and “Bob-sliders,” which are mini burgers. Commemorative cowbells and fan towels will be available for purchase, and all the proceeds will be donated to Bascue for his 2022 Olympic quest for bobsled gold.
For more information, contact Montville at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montville, who admitted Bascue was not the type of kid who was called down to the guidance office, said he hopes to get Bascue to visit the school after this Olympic journey is over.
In the meantime, the students will be cheering Bascue on in their own way.
“I think they’re really amazed that Codie went to this school and he’s going to the Olympics,” said fourth-grader Mia Waters, 9, who plans to watch Bascue compete on television.
Ira said even if Bascue doesn’t come home with a gold medal, he knows he won’t give up on his goal.
“I think that Codie Bascue will probably win,” Ira admitted. “But I think however he does, it’s going to be the best.”