I know, that sounds kinda crazy, right? How on earth does a kid with Cerebral Palsy get on a football team? And how is it that a football game could make me want to tear up from time to time?
Those that know me know just how non-athletic I am. I enjoy watching a game here or there, if I'm with good friends. I know enough of the rules of most games to understand what's happening on the field (or the ice). I don't know about teams or strategies, or what players are doing well or badly this season.
About two months ago, we were approached by with an offer to have Jake be a part of a program that places special-needs kids with little league football teams of the same age. The idea is to give the special-needs kid some social interaction in a setting (like athletics) where he/she might not ordinarily have the opportunity, and to give the other kids the chance to get to know the special-needs world, too,
They call the special-needs kid the "twelfth man", and even though he doesn't go on-field during the game, he's treated like a team member. He has a helmet and jersey, a number, he gets in all the team time-outs and huddles, and even gets to call the pre-game toss. He cheers the team along.
Jake actually loves watching sports, so we instantly thought it would be a great match-up. I admit, I was a bit nervous. My own experience with being bullied by the Jr High school jocks left me feeling more than a little fearful.
I didn't need to fear. The whole team took to jake like he was their brother. At every game and event they're always excited to see him, and always trying to include him.
Today's game was no different in that respect. But today, the team won, and won big, after a 4-5 game losing streak. The coaches are great, too. They shout to the kids, but never yell at them, and they talk about determination and intensity of focus in the after game huddles. This is stuff I want Jake to learn, too.
One day, after a game, Jake said to me, with a huge smile, "Dad, I'm a jock,now!"
I said, "Dude, you play minecraft. You're still a geek, too!"
...but it's ok to be both, now.