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That Halloween, just like every other Halloween, Matt was dressed as his favorite thing in the whole world; a football player. He and his other Downs buddies went trick or treating, and he told them all about how he had finally made the team. Their team had been practicing hard lately to get ready for their big game against Deerwood.
“…and then coach told me I was on the team! He told me all about football, and we had practice and I did push-ups, and then the next day we had practice, and I ran and did push-ups…” My friends aren’t listening. I was trying to tell them about football. I’ll start my story over and maybe they will this time.
We have a big game against Deerwood soon, and I’m playing in it! Well, if coach puts me in, but he will this time, I just know it. And when he does, I’ll be ready. Maybe I’ll score a touchdown!
“Hey Matt, how was trick or treating?” asked my mommy. She’s so cool.
“Good. I was a football player! I bet my friends were jealous.” I told her.
“I’m sure they were. Are you ready for your game tomorrow?”
“Yup! I’m gonna score a touchdown!”
At the beginning of the season, Coach Mike announced there would be no cuts that year. He thought it would impress his dad, who had previously told him that he was a bad coach, if he could build a better team under these conditions. Even though he knew, to one up his old man, all he had to do was beat the undefeated Deerwood. The school had never done this before, even during their glory days when his father was coaching.
Coach Mike’s hopes were doused when Matt, the sophomore with Down syndrome, signed up for the team. After the first practice, Matt asked him a blizzard of questions about the team, football, and coaching. Throughout the whole first part of the season, Matt never missed a practice, let alone a chance to bombard his coach with questions about football.
At first the coach thought of Matt as a nuisance, but then one rainy day he happened to be driving through Matt’s neighborhood. He drove by what seemed to be the same house over and over again. They all had the same roof, the same windows, the same driveway, and the same empty lawns, until he came to Matt's house at the end of the block. It was a seemingly run down house, not quite as elegant and the previous clones, but beautiful in it's own way. It was like the light at the end of the tunnel. And there, out on the front lawn, football in hand, was Matt, running back and forth through the rain. When asked what he was doing, Matt told his coach that he was practicing in case his coach ever put him in. This took the coach off guard and he realized that in retrospect, Matt had always tried his hardest, never complained, and never given any of the other players any trouble. He started to see the situation in a different light. Matt wasn't like the other players. Not just because of his Down syndrome, (although that may have been the cause for some of it), but because he was different, just like his house. On the outside he seemed less valuable than the other kids, but his true value lay underneath. Outside, the rain had stopped.
Alright, the big game. There’s coach, there’s the other players, there’s my team, and there’s the big box with the numbers that says the score. Most of the fans are green, just like my uniform! I hope coach knows I’m ready to go in. I’m sure he does, I just told him a minute ago. I’ll go stand by him just in case. Oh, there’s only 2 minutes left in the game. The big box says 0-56. I hope we’re winning!
I wonder where coach is going. It looks like he’s talking to the other team! Isn’t that dangerous? I hope he’s alright. Ok good, he’s coming back, and now he’s talking to our team. I bet he’s telling them the play to score a touchdown.
“Matt, this is your big moment.” He was talking to me now! Maybe he was going to put me in.
“I’m ready,” I told him.
“Good. Go in, start on the right side and the quarterback is going to throw you the ball. I need you to catch it, and then run and score a touchdown.” Oh, I got it. He was telling me the play that he told the other players earlier.
“Got it coach, right side, catch, run, touchdown. I’m ready.” I went back to sit down.
“No, Matt! Get in the game!!” He shouted
Wait, what? I’m in the game?! I’m in the game! “Woo hoo!” I shouted as I ran out to join the other players. Which side did the coach say to start on? Oh right, right.
“Down, set, hike!”
“I’m open, I’m open!” I yelled as the quarterback turned and threw me the ball. I caught it and ran toward the end zone. The other players seemed to clear a path right ahead of me; this was my chance. I ran as hard as I could.
25 20 15 10 5 TOUCHDOWN!!
Coach Mike made that day the best day of Matt’s life. It was also one of the most important days to the coach, because he realized many things. Football wasn’t about showing up your dad, it wasn’t even about winning. It was about fun and being a team. Life wasn’t about impressing your dad either, it was about living, and anyone who wasn’t impressed by him right now wasn’t worth impressing.
Matt had really taught him a lesson, and he was grateful. That was why he went over to the other team and asked them to allow Matt to score. They agreed, and Coach Mike got to do something he had wanted to do for the whole second half of the season¾put Matt in.