Jeff LaBonte

Bella Coughlin (Submitted photo)

Bella Coughlin (Submitted photo)

AMS sixth grader, Bella Coughlin, really didn’t think she would win when she decided to enter a Boston Celtics Black History Month essay contest. In fact, she did not even keep a copy of the essay she wrote. The phone call from the Boston Celtics front office earlier this week came as a huge surprise.

“They called while I was at school for play practice” said Bella. “They asked my mom to have me call when I got home, and that’s when I found out I had won.”

A total of five students were selected to attend a special Black History Month NBA event before, during and after Saturday’s Celtics versus Miami Heat game at the TD Garden in Boston.

The essay contest sponsored by the NBA and Boston Celtics asked students to write a 250-word essay describing what Black History Month meant to them. The contest was open to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students who attend school within 75 miles of Boston.

When she was notified that she had been selected as one of the winners, Coughlin was also told she could bring a guest in addition to her mother. Bella sealed her “sister of the year” status by inviting her twin brother, Carter. “He is a huge Celtic’s fan; I couldn’t not invite him. Plus, he’s who I want to be there.”

The once in a lifetime event begins two hours before game time, when the essay contest winners will receive an all-access tour of TD Garden, home of the Boston Celtics and Bruins. The tour will be accompanied by representatives from the Celtics, the Miami Heat (the Celts’ Saturday opponent), and Charles Cooper III, son of the late Chuck Cooper

The eldest Cooper was the first African American drafted by an NBA team back in 1950. He is also renowned for an infamous incident in Pittsburgh while Cooper was playing college basketball for Duquesne. The University of Tennessee basketball team refused to take the court if Duquesne had Cooper play in the game. The Duquesne University coaches, players and administration said ‘fine’, and walked off, sending Tennessee home without a game.

Following the tour, the winners will be able to stay on the court during the team shoot arounds. “The amount of interaction or involvement during the warm-ups will be up to the coaches” said Bella’s mother, Jessica Coughlin. “But it will be an experience either way!”

The winners will enjoy the game from one of the TD Garden box suites. During the course of the game, according to Jessica Coughlin, “Several NBA legends will visit the suite to greet the winners.” Coughlin says the identity of the visitors has not been disclosed to the winners yet. When asked if there was an NBA legend she would like to meet, she replied “Shaq.”

The winners will then be recognized at half court during halftime, and then have the opportunity to greet and take pictures with players and “some other celebrities” after the game.

According to Coughlin, it did not take her too long to write her essay.

“It was a real story that had happened to me, so it went pretty fast. There was just some punctuation and editing, that was about it” she said.

Bella learned about the contest through her ELA teacher, Susan DeGaetano.

“Mrs. DeGaetano handed out a sheet” said Coughlin. It was optional, not an assignment, and I decided to do it.”

Bella wrote about a girl she met at her new school after moving to Auburn in the first grade “She had these braids and awesome hair, and I wanted her hair” said Coughlin. “I asked my mom to braid my hair like that, and she did, but it didn’t look the same” she said.

DeGaetano was as surprised by Coughlin’s win as Coughlin was. According to Coughlin, “She [DeGaetano] didn’t believe me when I told her at first. But then she realized I was serious and she was really excited.”

But DeGaetano’s surprise was not because she felt the essay was not worthy of recognition. In her essay, Coughlin writes, “I was a little white girl who did not see a little African American girl. I met a nice girl…and wanted to be just like her.”

Said DeGaetano about Coughlin’s writing, “I am so impressed that her essay then goes on to reflect back upon the experience and recognize the absence of racism in innocent children. She really makes such a poignant statement about racism and hate being learned.”

Bella wrote in her essay, “I realized as I got older that ignorance and racism is learned. My mom always told me hate comes from hate. We are not born judging others. We are not born hating people just because they simply look different. I consider myself lucky to be raised by parents who taught me to like people. All people.”

Poignant, indeed.

Congratulations to Bella and the Coughlin family. A well-deserved honor.