Remember the story a few years back about the autistic boy who was allowed to play in the last game of the season and ended up scoring several points, including a just-before-the-buzzer three pointer? (Here's the video, if you need a refresher.)
Back then, the story made me teary. I was so glad that this kid got his chance to shine, doing something he loved so much. Everyone was genuinely excited to see Jason McElwain not only play the sport he loved, but succeed at it too. The community rallied around him and celebrated his achievements.
Today, I stumbled across a similar story. This one didn't make the mainstream media -- I found it on a website that covers Kansas City sports -- but the sentiment is every bit as heartwarming.
Matt Ziesel is a fifteen-year-old freshman at St. Joseph Benson High School. He is also five feet, three inches, 110 pounds, and (as of last week) had yet to play in a real game. But at last Monday's game, with the opposing team up 46-0, the Benson High coach, Dan McCamy, called a time out and sent Ziesel into the game.
KansasCity.com reports that Coach McCamy went over and spoke with the opposing team's coach, saying “I’ve got a special situation. I know you guys want to get a shutout. Most teams would want a shutout, but in this situation I want to know if maybe you can let one of my guys run in for a touchdown.”
The opposing team cooperated, allowing Ziesel to run 60 yards for a touchdown, but keeping pace with him the whole run so as to make the moment feel as realistic as possible. As a result, Ziesel was able to score his first touchdown, and two communities were able to share in the joy of seeing a boy accomplish his dreams.
Sports, like many organized activities, offer kids the chance to participate in something that makes them part of a team, makes them feel included. I'm a big fan of anyone who includes children with special needs in their activities. It may not always be easy, but it's always worth it. Just ask Matt or the basketball player if it was worth it. I'm sure they'd say it was.