Shane Cartwright is a Dallas police detective and a military veteran who has seen firsthand the gulf between good and evil, courage and cowardice.
So when he wrote an anonymous letter of “COMPLAINT” to Aledo High School Athletic Director Tim Buchanan regarding his autistic son, two Aledo football players, and the topic of bullying, he knew exactly what he was doing.
“I knew that if I labeled that letter a complaint, then that would get his attention,” Cartwright said. “I told him I had an issue with a couple of his players that I wanted to discuss.”
Remember, Aledo is home to the six-time Texas state champion Bearcats, a powerhouse football program that was famously accused of bullying in 2013 by an opposing player’s parent after a 91-0 defeat. Buchanan was the coach of that team that made national news, so he takes any suggestion of bullying at Aledo very seriously.
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But Cartwright’s “complaint” was the best kind of misdirection play -- one that led straight to the heart of a great story about his son, Hunter, and a newfound friendship that extends well beyond the football field.
“My son is the kid that never got invited over to the other kid’s houses for birthday parties and sleep-overs because he was just a little bit different from the other boys,” Cartwright explains in the letter, noting that Hunter has Asperger’s Syndrome. “He was always an easy target for bullies.”
“There are two Aledo high school football players that I mentioned (Wes Harris and Seth Strickland) ... who have taken my son under their wing. They have both come to our home and spent time with our son away from school activities. This in itself has been a tremendous confidence booster for a kid that at times has told me that doesn’t have a friend in the world,” Cartwright continued. “For the first time in a very long time, my son has a feeling of acceptance, a renewed sense of belonging, and his self-esteem has improved greatly.”
As Buchanan read the letter, he said he began to realize, “it was not really a complaint but a compliment about our kids.”
The highest form of compliment, actually.
“I spent a good chunk of my young adult life in our nation’s military,” Cartwright wrote as he concluded the two-page letter. “I know that often, being a leader means making tough decisions and taking the path less traveled. ... With Wes and Seth, you have two very fine examples of young men who are leaders. They have had such a positive impact on the life of my son.”
Hunter’s story is the focus of this week’s installment of Titletown, TX., a Star-Telegram original web series by video journalists Jared L. Christopher and Jessica Koscielniak. Watch it here.
“He is one of the most true, loyal, genuine friendships that I have,” says Strickland, a senior offensive lineman for the Bearcats. “I’m afraid that other people won’t see him the way I do.”