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A local high school basketball player’s Christmas gift to a special needs classmate goes viral

Shanquis, left, and Charles Thompson Jr. have become fast friends. (Courtesy of Charles Thompson Jr.)

Charles Thompson Jr. couldn’t sleep Thursday night. He was overwhelmed by “first-day-of-school” jitters, he said. Except Friday wasn’t the first day of school — it was the last school day before Christmas, and Thompson, a senior guard for the Long Reach High basketball team in Columbia, Md., had something planned befitting the holiday season.

“Oh my God, I can’t wait to see his face,” Thompson thought on repeat.

Thompson got to school 20 minutes early Friday and waited. Then he saw his friend Shanquis, a special needs student at Long Reach, strolling down the hall.

“I got something for you, baby,” Thompson said, clutching a gift in his hand.  

Shanquis, whose last name Thompson declined to disclose out of respect for his family, tore through the wrapping paper to find a professional wrestling championship belt, just like his heroes wear. With Thompson’s help, he slung the belt over his shoulder. “The heavyweight champion of the world!” Shanquis shouted, pounding his stomach. Thompson strapped the belt around Shanquis’s waist.

“They said he didn’t take it off all day,” Thompson said.

The video of their interaction was posted to Twitter, and as of Monday morning, it had 6.6 million views, more than 136,000 retweets and over 410,000 likes.

“Seeing this really made me beyond happy,” read one of the nearly 5,000 comments left on the post. “Continue to spread the love for others.”

“Makes my heart happy, too,” another user wrote. “Seeing kids care about others and being able to show it with pride, give me hope for the future.”

Shanquis and Thompson met this year in gym class, where they bonded over a shared love of professional wrestling. With Christmas approaching, Thompson considered buying Shanquis some wrestling action figures, before deciding on the championship belt.

He originally intended to purchase a retro version with a spinning WWE logo — popularized by John Cena, one of Shanquis’s favorite wrestlers — but with Target out of stock, he chose the NXT championship instead.

Thompson’s mother, Genise Barnes, said she’s seen the video on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms. Family members from New York called her to say they saw it on their local news broadcast. 

“Some people have reached out to me at Long Reach, saying: ‘You’re famous,’ ” Thompson said. “I don’t really look at it as me being famous. It’s all about Shanquis.”

The duo has grown close in gym class this year, with Shanquis rattling off his favorite wrestling catchphrases — “Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?” — while shooting hoops and playing catch. 

The class played a game of touch football one afternoon. Thompson played quarterback, with Shanquis hanging by his side.

“Set, go,” Thompson said to start each play. Shanquis repeated him. “Set, go.”

Shanquis collected a number of receptions for short gains, punctuating his catches by declaring: “The champ is here!” Eventually Thompson found a teammate open in the end zone. Shanquis shouted, “Touchdown!” then posed with Thompson, both of their arms outstretched. “We did our Randy Orton pose,” Thompson said, referring to the 13-time world champion WWE wrestler.

This isn’t the first time Thompson has thought outside the box during the holiday season. One year, he drained half his allowance on Beanie Babies and handed them out at a local nursing home, before breaking into impromptu Christmas carols. Another year, he purchased sandwiches for a homeless shelter.

He doesn’t think doing good should be limited to late December, though.

“This shouldn’t be seen as a big thing. Whether [Shanquis] has a disability or not, we should care for each other,” he said. “If others do things like this, then the world can truly become a better place.”