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The unlikely friendship between LeVelle Moton and Leah Ward

LeVelle Moton is a Division I basketball coach, a husband and a father. So he's busy. Probably busier than most of us. But he still finds time to read his local paper every morning. And that's what he was doing a little more than two years ago when he noticed a story about an event that interested him.

"It was a piece about a prom that was basically going to be for young adults who either had terminal illnesses or were unable to attend their own proms because of some other illness," Moton said. "As I was reading it, I thought, 'That's interesting. I'd like to help.' "

A phone number was attached at the bottom of the article.

Naturally, Moton called it.

"And the lady who answered was nice; she said, 'Coach, you can be a chauffeur,' " Moton recalled. "But I told her, 'Nah. Just give me your hottest date. I wanna be somebody's date. I didn't go to my prom either. So maybe this is an opportunity for me, too.' "

****

College basketball coaches -- even ones working in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference like Moton does at North Carolina Central -- spend their years getting pulled in different directions, constantly being asked to speak here and visit there. They do it, mostly because it's part of the job. Then they typically move on with their lives because there's always another game to scout, forever another recruit to secure.

This is not a story about a story like that.

This is a story about Moton being asked to escort a young woman named Leah Ward to the prom. This is a story about him realizing that her favorite color is pink and favorite team is Duke, which led to Moton showing up at her home in a pink limousine and with a basketball signed by Mike Krzyzewski. This is a story about a friendship that originated that night, developed over time and still flourishes more than two years later.

"I told Leah that night that she couldn't just be my prom date for one night and then dump me," Moton said with a laugh. "I told her that she had to keep me around. I told her I was gonna be around for a while."

Leah Ward is 32 years old.

She's been diagnosed with Williams syndrome -- a rare neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the physical and mental development of men and women. Consequently, it's unlikely that Ward ever will live alone or hold a normal job. That's the bad. But another characteristic of Williams sydrome is an unusually cheerful demeanor and ease with strangers, and that's not necessarily always a negative. In fact, it might be the exact thing that allowed Moton and Ward to connect from the start.

The pink limousine was a good first impression.

That blew Ward away.

"I was very surprised and happy," she said. "Just filled with joy. It was amazing."

For Moton, though, it was something different.

It was eye-opening for him.

It's cliche to suggest that seeing folks so unlucky still so happy and appreciative could change a man's perspective on life, but the cliche applies here. Moton was genuinely touched by the event. He met people who were either dying or facing some serious life challenge, but he didn't see any feeling too sorry for themselves. He watched them dance. He heard them laugh. He decided right then that he'd keep in touch with Ward going forward. They made a deal to talk every Sunday and see each other again. So now they talk every Sunday, and she's attended multiple North Carolina Central games. She often visits the locker room. She has even provided pregame speeches.

"LeVelle is a very, very, very, very sweet person," said Leah Ward's mother, Katherine Ward. "He calls her every Sunday. He remembers her birthday. He takes her to games. And it's just been amazing because he doesn't have to do this. He could've just been her date for that one night, and it would've been wonderful and she would've remembered it forever. But he's developed a real friendship with her and kept in touch, and it's really been very good for her."

Especially through the tough times.

One of those times is now.

Ward hasn't been feeling great lately. Her health constantly takes twists and turns. She's used to it, but that doesn't make it easy. Beyond that, one of her good friends -- the woman who organized the prom back in May 2011, the first woman you see in this video -- died in April from complications from Cushing's disease. She was only 31.

"I lost a really close friend three months ago," Ward said. "I'm still struggling with that."

Moton has tried his best to help with countless calls, texts and visits.

More than two years later, he's still active in Ward's life.

Pulling back is no longer an option.

"It sometimes takes situations like this to make you step back and look at life from a realistic point of view," Moton said. "And that's what Leah has done for me. Now I actually think I need her in my life just as much as she needs me."

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