Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Friday Night Lights

So this year in high school, Jared has been one of the "managers" for the Cosby Titan Football team.

And he has loved every minute of it!!  Well except for the beginning...

Like everything else that is new, it comes with anxiety for Jared.
A huge amount of anxiety.
And football was no different.

As a matter of fact, the first week of this new experience had both Jared and myself in tears.
Autism was winning, and we were ready to quit!

But we decided to try it one more week.

And slowly the anxiety, both Jared's and mine, began to go away.
Day by day, things started to improve for Jared.

And now it is November.

Now we find ourselves, wishing that football was a year round sport.
(Except in the winter we would want it to be played inside where it is warm).

For the past 10 weeks or so, Jared has spent his afternoons at football practice, filling up the water bottles for the football team.

What a gift this has been for Jared!

It has been an opportunity for a "regular life".
Something that the ARC calls "A Life Like Yours".
A life that is not full of "special", which often means segregated, things.
But a life that is just like anyone else's life.
A life with ups and downs.
A life like other 16 year olds.
Cosby football has given Jared an extraordinary "regular life" experience.

There are so many people that have helped make this possible for Jared this fall......

His Teacher, Ms. Williams.
She made this opportunity happen.
She believes that Jared can be successful at anything, and is always willing to help open doors for opportunities.
She is always willing to ask "What if?"

The Coaches.
Throughout the season, these men have modeled acceptance and inclusion.
At the very first practice, they called Jared out on the field and had the team huddle up around him, as they introduced him as one of the "managers" who would be helping out the team.
Each week, they included Jared as part of what was happening.
Speaking to him, asking him questions, treating him as "just one of the guys".
Their words and actions spoke volumes.

The other Managers on the team.
These other high school students have provided such incredible natural supports for Jared.  They have kept him involved, when he might begin to drift away into his thoughts.
They have let him ride along on the golf cart, when they are going to run errands.  Not necessarily because they needed his help, but because they knew how much he loved to ride in the golf cart.
They have gently pushed him to grow, while all along supporting him when he needed it.
Jared considers them friends.

The Football Players.
I wasn't sure how the football players would react to having Jared at practice and games.

I didn't know what they would think and possibly say about:
a peer who sometimes acts a little strange,
who doesn't converse like others their age,
who talks to himself at times,
a peer who has autism.

The football players have been incredible.
They have included Jared as part of their team.

This looks like....
talking with Jared when they see him,
thanking him for filling the water bottles,
high-fiving and fist bumping,
speaking to him in the halls and cafeteria during the day at school...

And on Friday night
under the lights
allowing Jared to hang out in the field house with them 
in that 30 minutes before a game
without mom or dad, without any outside support person 
and do whatever a football team does before a game in the field house.

Allowing Jared to walk out with the team as they enter the football stadium,
giving Jared the opportunity each and every Friday night to run through the tunnel,
past the cheerleaders as they cheer (one of Jared's favorite parts of Friday night)
and onto the field with the team,

chatting it up with Jared during the game when they come and get water,
as Jared cheers them on "Go my Cosby football friends, you can do it!"

Life changing!

As I look back over the last few weeks, I am full of gratitude.
I am humbled by the kindness of others.
I am thankful for high school football in a way I have never been before.