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1. This past September, Novi High School football coach Jeff Burnside put in player Robby Heil for a play. Now normally, that would not be a big deal at all… coaches switch out players all the time. But this time it WAS a big deal. Young Robby usually acts as the team’s waterboy and seldom has a chance to contribute to the team outside of that. On this special September night, however, that would change. Robby’s mom, who always followed the team taking pictures from the sidelines, had recently been diagnosed with advanced cancer. She was on the sidelines this night as well, watching in amazement as her son, Robby, born with Down Syndrome, was handed the football and ran with it 20 yards to score his one and only touchdown for the team. Both teams and their coaches were in on the gesture. Robby and his mom were not.
2. Jason McELwain was in his senior year in 2011 and served as the equipment manager of the school’s basketball team. He loved the sport and he loved his team, and he would have given anything to play for them, but he couldn’t. Jason was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old, and although he grew into what is called functioning autism, he just wasn’t viewed as someone who could contribute to the team. One night before a game, the coach had him suit up, letting him know that this was his senior year and he was finally going to be able to do something he had been wanting to do for a long, long time. After the coach put him in, Jason received his first pass from a teammate and shot the ball from 20 feet. It missed wildly. His coach put down his head but left him in the game. Jason took his next shot from the 3-point line and, amazingly, it went in. The shocked crowd screamed in excitement for the young man. But Jason wasn’t done. Through the game, he took 5 more shots from the 3-point arc and made every single one of them, setting a new school record of 6 3-pointers by one player in a single game. Which just goes to show the amazing things a person can do if only given the chance.
3. Earlier this year, 9-year-old Rory Logan, who has autism, swam the 50 meters in the Special Olympics regional finals in Bangor, North Wales. And, despite being the youngest competitor, came in first, with an incredible time of 53.15 seconds. But, as it turns out, swimmers are not allow to be more than 15 percent faster than the qualifying heat that gets them in the finals, just to keep swimmers from being in a lower division’s finals. And Rory’s time was just a hair over that 15 percent, and he was disqualified and denied a gold medal. Instead, he was given a participation ribbon. Now to say that Rory and his mother were disappointed in this “official ruling” would be quite an understatement. She says, “Someone please explain to me how a nine-year-old child would think of doing that or being that calculating.” Rory just couldn’t understand what he did wrong. I suppose if there is any silver lining at all to this story, it’s that Rory went on in those finals to win 2 other gold medals, and that when he gets older, he’ll probably be going after some records set by another swimmer. I believe his name is Michael Phelps.
4. In Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, 13-year-old Jagger Lavely, who has autism, was singing on high school stage in a talent show when all of a sudden, he forgot the words. As he stumbled to find the words to the Frozen hit Let It Go, the audience found them… and didn’t let it go. They quickly joined in with Jagger and helped him carry the tune throughout his performance. And what made that even sweeter for Jagger and his mom, who was there with him, is that the school he was performing at…wasn’t even his own. It was a rival school. Says his mom Stacey, “The kids rallied around him. They showed him that he is not disabled but he is just differently able-ed.”
5. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa earlier this year, sophomore Evan Hansen was running a cross country race for his school when he spotted Adam Todd running the race as well. Adam, who has epilepsy and autism, was from a rival school. But during the race, Adam became distracted by a nearby ambulance. Seeing that Adam had stopped and veered off course, Evan ran over to him, got him back on course and ran with him, even holding his hand to run with him for a mile and a half. As they neared the finish line, the rest of Evan’s team ran along with them to encourage Adam. At the finish line, Evan even pushed Adam a bit in front of him so he would finish in a better spot. Both teams’ coaches got choked up at the sight of the two finishing together like that. Says Jayme Skay, Evan’s coach, “You coach 20, 30 years, and it’s moments like that, that make it all worth it.”