GORHAM — You want to see a kid come out of her shell? Put out the red carpet.

Lauren Anderson strutted the red carpet with her teammates, posing for pictures like a celebrity. On this night, Lauren was a star.

Lauren started opening up as a member of the Waterville Senior High School unified basketball team. Her transformation from a shy, quiet young woman to basketball star hit its pinnacle on Wednesday night at the University of Southern Maine, when Anderson won the Unsung Hero Award at the Varsity Maine Awards.

“Hi, I’m Lauren Anderson,” she said when accepting her trophy, a custom-made snowboard. “I just want to say thank you to my teammates. You guys are my best friends.”

Lauren sat front row center, surrounded by friends and teammates from school. Her family, including her mother, Holly Anderson, and her sister, Rachel, sat four rows back, giving Lauren plenty of space to enjoy her night.

When her named was called, Lauren received a standing ovation from her large Waterville cheering section. Most of the unified basketball team came to support Lauren, and the school bus in which the Waterville contingent was chauffeured was a rolling party.

In the last few weeks excitement built, and it overflowed as Lauren prepared to go to Gorham for the awards ceremony. She chose her wardrobe carefully, deciding her Purple Panthers warm-up jacket would properly represent her team.

Those who know Lauren well are amazed at her transformation.

“She was shy and quiet and barely would talk to anybody,” Tabatha King, Waterville’s Project Unified coordinator and the school’s unified cheering coach, said. “Her self-esteem is through the roof.”

The Waterville unified basketball team won its first game this past season. Holly Anderson noticed the change in Lauren immediately.

“She was so excited. She came home and kept saying ‘We won! We won!’” Holly said.

There was a halftime show during one of Waterville’s games. Both teams came together and danced. In the middle of it all was Lauren. Holly watched in awe.

“She was doing the macarena, the cha-cha,” Holly said. “It was magic.”

Lauren was one of the Purple Panthers top players. She was certainly the most enthusiastic, and she had the best celebration ritual.

After making a basket, Lauren shot her arms straight up. She gave a thumbs up to her team. Sometimes, she brought her hands down in the universal swish motion for a made bucket. Every time, she smiled.

Rachel accompanied Lauren to her red carpet interview with host Erin Orvalle. A year ago, would Lauren have done that?

“No, she was timid,” Rachel said.

Celebrating backstage with her friends and family, Lauren owned the room. She posed for pictures. She accepted high fives and hugs. Lauren’s new snowboard never left her side. The enthusiasm she has for her team came out in Lauren’s smile.

Before the ceremony started, Rachel said she’d probably cry if Lauren won. Backstage, Rachel hadn’t teared up yet, but she was close. Seeing her sister accept an award on stage in front of 400 people was something Rachel never thought she’d see.

“I was like, that’s my sister,” Rachel said. “I was so proud.”

 Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242
Mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM