I read a syndicated column in our local paper a couple of days ago that really touched me. (I've attached a copy of it at the end of this post as well as links to the site where the column originates.) It deals with some football players in Ohio helping a classmate with a terminal illness become a part of their team.
When I read it, it hit me that Coach Roark has always made his program available to special needs students. Actually, he does a lot more than make his program available, he goes out of his way to see to it that kids with disabilities know they are welcome. And I bet if you called him up and asked him right now about it, he wouldn't know what the heck you were talking about. Kenny is one of those people in life that can do more good accidentally than most folks can do when they set out to do it. It's the damnedest thing.
Anyway, while most are content to help with the logistics as a manager, I know we've had a few guys to dress out and warm up with the team. Both said that they would be happy just being on the sidelines in their uniforms helping the team stay pumped-up and motivated... and, man, did they ever! But I can remember many practices during water breaks where our regular ed player and our special ed players would run pass patterns and just be kids together. I can't think of one instance where an unkind word was said by anybody. And we're not talking kids from upper-crust elite families here, folks. On a scale from 1 to 10 our local economy might rank somewhere around a -25 since the big mines shut down... there are 5 assisted living apartment complexes in the city limits and as many Dollar Stores as well. Most of our players are tobacco chewing (off campus, of course), pickup truck driving kids raised in blue collar homes by 2 parents (if they're lucky) who, pardon my French, work their asses off just to make ends meet. But I'll tell your this about those kids, you won't find one of them that would sit still and let one of our special ed guys get picked on in a class or in the cafeteria.
So I'm going to take a moment and give you some props, Kenny. I think you're doing a good thing and making a positive difference in young men's lives. You get my first ever Good Egg Award for the month of December 2007.
Think about the lessons you teach your players, gentlemen. We have a golden opportunity to teach some great lessons to some outstanding young men. I challenge you not to let one opportunity slip by.
By Daniel J. Vance
Payton Printz and Andrew Teets became friends, and soon an entire Ohio high school football team and school district joined their friendship. This is a heartland America story worthy of becoming a Hollywood movie.
They both live near Urbana, Ohio, where the Urbana Citizen publishes this column.
The pair first met in 2000 when Teets was in sixth grade and Printz was starting as a junior high health and physical education teacher. “After exiting the (accessible) school bus, Andrew would need help getting out of his wheelchair so he could walk to and from classes,” said 44-year-old Printz in a telephone interview. “It took two teachers to lift him out of the wheelchair, one on each side. He had students carrying his books for him.”
Teets has muscular dystrophy, and from 2000 on he was losing a little more muscle function each year. For example, he could walk nearly all school day in sixth grade, but now he is able to walk only the first three class periods before tiring and having to use his electric wheelchair. Currently, Printz has the responsibility of helping Teets out of his wheelchair and assisting with his personal needs.
Printz is also coach of the Triad High football team. When Teets was a freshman, the team, after learning of his interest in football, asked as a group if there was any way their popular classmate could earn a varsity letter.
The coach found a way and the team pitched in to buy their classmate an expensive letter jacket. To earn his varsity letter this year he attended a four-day football training camp, where Triad High players voluntarily assisted with his personal needs. “They were washing him head to toe,” said Printz. “My heart fell out of my chest. His teammates were doing this and not complaining. Talk about selfless.”
This school year Printz again is helping his friend off the bus. “And my day is incomplete unless I see him,” he said. “We have great rapport. He is unbelievable. He has a smile on his face every day.”
After the last game of 2006, Printz said if possible he would give Teets the opportunity to score a rushing touchdown in a real game during the 2007 season. What happened then would fill an Ohio town with pride and tears.
[Part one of two columns. Read next week. www.danieljvance.com]
For more, see danieljvance.com [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]
If you know about a player or coach deserving an "attaboy" or "attagirl," please send me an email at email@example.com.