Dante with his horse “Jake from State Farm”

By Tim Chambers

Author’s note: Johnson County is a special place with a lot of special people and I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of them during my three years as sports editor at the Tomahawk. You can add another one to the list after my visit to Butler on Monday.
It’s funny how God can lift you up by placing special people in your life at a time when you need that. I got more uplifting than I bargained for on Monday.
It’s a day that I’ll never forget.

Dante Bolognese is a 2017 graduate of Johnson County High School who knows the true meaning of the word “special.” He’s been that way since his arrival nearly 15 years ago according to his parents, Dan and Diane Bolognese of Butler.
The Bolognese family adopted Dante after he came to live with them when he was three years old. And they had no clue what they were getting when he arrived on the scene.
Dante couldn’t walk at three years and six months. He had to pull himself up with his hands.
The doctors said that he might never walk but God had a different plan. Young Dante would master walking and later become a track star at JCHS.
But there is more.
He didn’t speak until he was seven years old according to his mother Diane.
“He couldn’t speak, walk or cry when we got him,” said Diane. “Dan and I used to pray that God would allow him to talk so we could communicate. We didn’t know if he was okay or if he needed anything. He was five when he first cried and seven when he finally starting talking. He hasn’t stopped since.”
That’s where his ability to star on the track team takes place.
The things he accomplished as a Longhorn student athlete are nothing short of amazing. It definitely defines the word special.
“I love to run,” said Dante. “I like the mile and the two-mile runs.”
Dante was one of the top distance runners in the conference but none of his performances stood out like the one during the Special Olympics at East Tennessee State University.
He was set to run the 400 and 1600 meter runs, but several kids backed off leaving him with nobody to run against.
His mother told the story.
“The college athletes that were there felt badly for Dante,” said Diane. “Several volunteered to run with him in the race. There were people from the tennis team and other sports there and a couple had to drop out during the race. They saw how good Dante was because only one was able to beat him. That was a special day for him.”
The day got more special just hours later.
Dante was voted Olympian of the Year for Northeast Tennessee, and District 3 that included Johnson, Carter, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi Counties.
“I was so happy that they chose me,” said Dante. “It was the greatest feeling, like no other. Everyone was proud of me and that made me feel good. I will never forget that day and how special that it was.”
Dante just competed in Saturday’s 5K run in Elizabethton at the Covered Bridge Days. It was there he nearly had a mishap.
“I was running fast through the covered bridge and looked off to the side to see if God was watching me,” said Dante. “I nearly ran over a post by not watching out where I was going.”
Diane said that Dante always looks to the side to make sure God is watching. It’s evident that he’s been doing so since Dante’s arrival at the Bolognese’s house.
“God plays a big role in our daily lives,” said Diane. “We pray together before we eat and we pray often when working together. We stop and hold hands and give thanks to God. He’s done a lot of great things in our lives.”
Yet the sweet hour of prayer gets better because Dante plans on attending college in the fall.
“I plan on going to a two-year cooking school in Smyrna, Tennessee,” said Dante. “I would love to come back and cook in Mountain City one day. I love it here and love all the people. That would be a special job for me.”
Diane pointed out how the school works with special education kids to place them in job settings after they graduate.
“They teach them how to get along with one another socially the first year,” said Diane. “They work all types of jobs during the second year in the school cafeteria. “
Pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk on sale now to read the rest of the story.