Second graders pen heartfelt letters to hospitalized Florida basketball star

Jeff Eisenberg
·4 min read

It’s a Monday morning staple in Kaitlyn Day’s class.

The second graders at the Gainesville elementary school where Day teaches know that she’s a Florida alum and diehard Gators fan, so they always ask her about the previous weekend’s football game.

The conversation veered in an unexpected direction this week when a student brought up the Florida basketball player who collapsed without warning during a game on Saturday afternoon. The rest of Day’s class soon learned that Keyontae Johnson had been rushed to the nearest hospital and that his prognosis at that time was uncertain.

After the class discussed how a Florida football player wore Johnson’s number and initials on his arm sleeve during the team’s loss to LSU last Saturday night, some of Day’s students began to wonder aloud how they could show their support for the fallen basketball star. It was then that a typically quiet boy piped up and asked, “Can I write him a letter?”

“Of course you can write him a letter!” Day said. Then she thought about it a little more and said, “How about we all write him letters?”

Day gave her class little instruction besides to think about the types of letters they would want to receive if they were Johnson and to make them personal. What Day’s students produced over the next hour left her proud and teary-eyed.

One student drew a picture of herself playing basketball with Johnson and wrote that she hoped he would be able to leave the hospital and return home in time for Christmas.

Another student said he dreamed of playing basketball for Florida like Johnson and added that he hoped Johnson recovered in time for the Gators’ next game.

Wrote a third student, “When I’m sick, I like to here [sic] people say nice things about me, so I hope this makes you feel better.”

A fourth student admitted he had never watched a Florida basketball game before but said, “I hope you get better, so I can start watching the Gators win.”

“Their writing was so heartfelt,” Day told Yahoo Sports. “I was like, ‘You guys, you don’t write like this for me on a normal day!’”

In addition to mailing the letters to the University of Florida, Day also posted a picture of a few of them to her Twitter account on Wednesday morning. In the tweet Day wrote, “When your second grade class wants to make @Keyontae feel better so they all write him notes! Hope this mail makes you smile - get well soon!

It’s unclear whether Johnson himself has received the letters yet, but his father has seen Day’s tweet. Marrecus Johnson wrote back on Thursday morning, “Love it, tell the kids his dad says thank you so much.”

“I told my kids that today and the smiles and excitement I got from them were as if you’d given them a whole candy store,” Day said Thursday. “It was pure, genuine joy.”

The apparent improvement in Johnson’s condition has also uplifted Day’s students.

The first 48 hours after Johnson’s collapse passed without a meaningful update on his condition. There were no pictures of the SEC preseason player of the year smiling and giving a thumbs up from his hospital room, nor were there any statements from family members reassuring fans that Johnson would be OK.

Not long after Johnson’s grandfather told USA Today on Monday that Johnson had been in a medically induced coma, Florida offered some reason for optimism. The university’s statement revealed that Johnson had been transported to a Gainesville hospital and was following simple commands.

The past couple days has brought more good news. Johnson is talking and laughing again. He even was able to Facetime his teammates.

Florida has not revealed what caused Johnson’s frightening collapse or what the chances are that he’ll play high-level basketball again, but the kids at Meadowbrook Elementary School are hopeful. Day’s students told her they want to attend a game with her once Johnson is back on the floor in a Gators jersey.

The lesson that Day hopes her students take from this week is one that she has been trying to teach them since Thanksgiving. She wants them to understand that they don’t need to buy a gift for someone to make their day. Little gestures like writing a note or telling someone you love them can go a long way.

“Their notes made me feel like I taught them something,” Day said. “I think what they took from this is we can care for people even if we don’t know them. That’s a big concept for kids to get.”

In class on Thursday, one of Day’s students asked, “Do we get to write Keyontae again now that he’s doing better?”

Day chuckled and said, “Well, we could, but we don’t want to bombard him.”

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