In a story of true sportsmanship, two competing high school football teams in Arkansas came together last Friday night to help one fellow student's dream come true.
Manila High School trailed top-ranked Rivercrest High 47-0 when Rivercrest forfeited a perfect game to allow Manila senior Dylan Galloway to score, carrying the pig skin over the goal line in his wheelchair. Dylan was born with cerebral palsy and thanks to a pre-arranged moment between opposing coaches, he was able to realize his dream of playing varsity football. (h/t Business Insider)
While most of us focus on the scoreboard each game, I found that heartwarming stories like this are more common than we might think.
Earlier this fall, two teams came together in a similar fashion during a match-up in Wisconsin. An agreement between the coaches of Menomonie and Superior High Schools gave Sam Kolden, a Menomonie senior who struggles with autism, the chance to shine during his team's 52-14 victory. From the Superior Spartans Facebook page, one fan who sat in the stands that night wrote:
Both teams played hard though over time the score tipped in Menomonie's favor. Our team has one player who, due to special needs, is only occasionally able to be on the field. On this particular night, after a conversation between head coaches, our special player took to the field in his wide receiver position. Teams lined up, ball was snapped, a gentle pass found its way into his hands, and with great care and energy Superior players lunged in pursuit knowing well the dream they granted was more important than the six points it placed on the Menomonie score board.
The crowd was a mixture of joy and humble silence as we observed a larger than life gift given by these Superior HS men. This act of honor clearly reflects character, an attribute that our society so yearns to see. That Friday night the Superior HS Varsity football team and its coaching staff exhibited, without apology, a willingness to honor the "least of these". To the Superior staff and players that held our stadium in awe that evening, I extend our deepest appreciation. The scoreboard that night told only part of the story. Might their display of character serve to remind the fans and others that the scoreboard only tells one aspect of the story. The coaching leadership at Superior has the right priorities.
And in Washington state, a junior with Down Syndrome at Snohomish High School ran for a 51-yard touchdown to put his school on the board in their 35-6 loss. Ike Ditzenberger got his wish with just 10 seconds left in the game against Lake Stevens High School when the coach called for the same play that ends each Snohomish practice, now aptly referred to as the "Ike Special."
Ike's mother, Kay, later explained to the Everett Herald why football is so important to Ike: "[Down syndrome kids] don't learn by what they hear; they learn by what they see," she said. "So he's a real imitator. For him to be able to watch and learn by doing, and to be like his older brothers, is a really big deal."