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Outsports Person of the Year: Dalton Maldonado

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Kentucky high school basketball player Dalton Maldonado exhibited rare courage by coming out privately then publicly, refusing to be quieted even in rural Kentucky.

I suppose every kid related to in some way to Rachel Platten's hit single Fight Song this year. The first time I ever heard it was shortly after we ran the story of Kentucky high school basketball player Dalton Maldonado. He posted a link to the song on social media, saying it had become his anthem.

At the risk of sounding trite, it's as though Fight Song was written for the year Maldonado experienced.

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song

In case you haven't heard, Maldonado was pushed out of the closet at a high school basketball game a year ago next week, when players on an opposing team allegedly called him a gay slur then chased him and his team in a bus trying to attack Maldonado. He didn't back down but used the opportunity to come out to everyone in his life.

The reaction from the people in his town of 7,000 in rural Kentucky was mixed. His teammates and coaches embraced and supported him. Yet he claims some administrators, teachers and students, along with teams from other areas who heard the rumors of the gay kid, weren't as kind.

Still, Maldonado wanted to make a difference. We hear so much that there are places in the country a gay kid "can't" come out. Pikevilly, Ky., would be at the top of that "can't" list. Yet Maldonado had found a lot more support than he ever could have imagined. He also wanted to expose some of the homophobia that continues to pervade our sports culture not just in Kentucky but across the country.

When he first emailed us his story, we frankly didn't believe it - outed at a basketball game and chased out of the school by the opposing team. From our reporting, it was all true (though some still deny it). Teammates and coaches backed up his story nearly verbatim.

Outsports has never had a story like Maldonado's, which became a national sensation in a matter of hours. A million people read Outsports' story on him last March, and that's not including the number of people who read his story across other Web sites and on radio and TV stations. It's our most-read coming-out story ever, drawing more readers to Outsports' story than the coming-out of professional athletes like Michael Sam, Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers or anyone else. When he was -- accidentally or intentionally -- left off of part of the basketball page of his high school yearbook, Maldonado refused to be silent about it. At the recent Atlantic LGBT Summit in Washington, D.C., Maldonado was a powerful force with his Southern drawl that reminded everyone in attendance he was speaking from the rural South.

His story struck a chord with people of all ages. Many thousands of emails, text messages and social-media messages poured in within hours. Maldonado guesses that he has heard from 2,000 LGBT athletes, most of them looking for advice or help dealing with being LGBT in sports. He was named to this year's Out 100, a reflection of the broader impact of his story.

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion

Now a freshman at the Univ. of Louisville, Maldonado is continuing his work. He lives in the schools' Bayard Rustin LGBT and Social Justice Themed Living Community and is starting a chapter of GO! Athletes at the school. His work inspired CorTech International to give him a scholarship in their "Make An Impact" program. That scholarship is helping Maldonado attend Louisville.

"CorTech recognizes Dalton for his positive impact in both local and national communities," the company said in a statement. "Dalton has courageously shared with the public his personal story of being a student-athlete who faced adversity, because of his sexual orientation. This selfless act, along with his individual achievements and public contributions, on and off the basketball court, has been an exceptional inspiration to others who have faced adversity based on their sexual orientation or gender identity."

We couldn't agree more. For his courage and refusal to go quietly into the night, along with the incredible power and breadth of his story, Dalton Maldonado is Outsports' Person of the Year.

Honorable Mention: Caitlyn Jenner's impact on the year was powerful. While she hasn't participated in elite sports for decades, her Olympic gold medals helped bring the story and struggle of trans people into the sports world.