Ricky White chose his love for the Elida Tigers over barrel racing this summer.
Born with Down syndrome, the 31-year-old Elida resident sold his barrel horse in August to pay for a professionally made mascot outfit and completely devote himself to the school’s teams.
Shelba White said her son has been welcomed by students and faculty to serve as their mascot.
“This community is amazing,” Shelba White said. “I’ve never lived anywhere with Ricky where we’ve been loved like here. He was never allowed to participate in things before.
“He didn’t have a lot of friends back home in Arkansas.”
“Sometimes, they picked on me in school,” Ricky White added. “I rode the school bus a few times and it didn’t work out. They weren’t very good to me.”
White graduated high school in 2000 and moved to Elida in 2008.
“I’ve got a bunch of friends here,” Ricky said.
Shelba White said shortly after her family moved to Elida, they began attending sporting events. She said her son immediately became a favorite because of his excitement and enthusiasm.
She said Ricky was so enthused about the games she began making him homemade tiger costumes to wear to the games.
After asking the school superintendent, Jim Daugherty, if it was OK her son was wearing the costumes to the games, Daugherty told her the school needed a mascot anyway.
“When word got out that it was OK, the cheerleaders started saying, ‘Come on, Ricky, get on the floor. You’re one of us now,’” Shelba said. “They have the courage and love to stand out on the floor with Ricky. It doesn’t matter to them what anyone thinks.”
Shelba said when local residents found out they couldn’t afford to go to the high school volleyball state championship last week, they gave her money for Ricky to go — Elida won its second straight Class B title.
Shelba White said she refused to treat her son like he couldn’t do anything anyone else could do.
“When the doctor came in and told me he’d never talk, I fired him right then and there, because what he said was just so negative,” Shelba White said of when Ricky was born. “When he was little, I put him in speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, anything I could put him in to help him develop.”
Shelba White said the annual trip of the Elida Christian Fellowship of Athletes is approaching and Elida students refused to go without Ricky.
“They make me feel very happy,” Ricky said. “On a horse, you’re not part of a team. I’m part of a team now.”