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‘Best Buddies’ duet sweet music for new friends

Nearly 300 bone fractures hasn’t kept 8-year-old Dan McCarty from becoming something of a celebrity.

The third grader, who suffers from brittle bone disease, took center stage at a Saturday event for Miss USA contestants, performing a song with Miss Kentucky that they had written together.

Despite just healing from a broken left arm, Dan learned to play guitar two days ago and seemed to be no amateur, earning chants of “Dan the Man” and plenty of wild applause for his rap portion of the duet.

The open mic show was part of an event for Best Buddies, a nonprofit group that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Miss USA contestants joined them for the morning to play video games, paint, hula hoop and eat breakfast in the Celebrity Ballroom at Planet Hollywood Resort.

Dan, the last “buddy” to come down the welcome line of high fives and cheers, said he was rooting for Miss Kentucky in this year’s pageant, which airs June 19. Then he brandished his blue University of Kentucky hat to an ecstatic Kia Hampton, who represents the state in the pageant.

“Who would have known he’s an aspiring musician and I’m an aspiring singer,” said Hampton, who exchanged contact information with Dan’s mom before the event ended. “It was a perfect match.”

The 22-year-old said she never expected to meet a UK fan in Las Vegas. Hampton said she almost cried when she felt that “special connection with her buddy,” which is what the program is all about.

In addition to creating one-on-one friendships, Best Buddies focuses on enhancing leadership skills and employment opportunities for the participants. Miss USA has teamed up with the group for the past seven years in an effort to advance that mission.

“It means so much to the buddies. It means so much to our contestants,” Miss Universe President Paula Shugart said. “It’s just a big party.”

For Vanessa Stegall, an 18-year-old Best Buddies participant, the partnership meant making a friend she says she will never forget. Stegall, who spoke at the event as an ambassador for the program, keeps in touch with 2010 Miss Illinois Ashley Bradarich. The two met last year.

“Having a buddy really makes people feel special,” Stegall said in a speech that brought tears to at least one listener.

Ashley Marble, 27-year-old Miss Maine, said the speech touched her by showing that her humanitarian work really is making a difference.

“My passion is to just help others achieve their dreams,” Marble said, wiping her eyes.

“It is 100 percent what I want to do every day for the rest of my life. I want to help others be confident in themselves and know that anything is possible, and that happened here today.”

Contact Jessica Fryman at jfryman@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0264.

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