December 11, 2009

Shoot for the Stars - High School sports

I know part of my responsibility as a parent of a child with special needs is to educate. This responsibility of education has been carried by parents before us, and as each generation goes by it is diminished by their efforts. Although much hard work at times, it is quite an honor to be Alex’s parent.

My latest educational responsibility is around sports. I believe that Alex participating in basketball is positive for her and her team mates. The girls learn to respect Alex and her differences. They learn what being on a team really means, and they learn to share. Alex gains confidence, respect and exercises!

Many female athletes already know these things, or are learning. I believe Alex can help the coaches reinforce these goals of sportsmanship. I know this; I participated in sports all my life. I was brought up to be a team player, one who works with and in the team. Sports have made a positive difference in my life.

Since basketball season has started, I recognize I need to get back on the education train. Actually I am always on the train; I just need to drive it faster for the next few months.

I have searched and found a number of articles about athletes with down syndrome. Specifically, I search for articles that talk about the benefit the entire team receives when an athlete who is different participates. I found the following, and will be sharing with all parties involved:

Football player with Down syndrome scores touchdown
by ALEX REED / NewsChannel 36
Posted on December 2, 2009 at 7:20 PM

NEWTON, N.C. -- He's a high school senior who no one thought would be a football star.

Diagnosed with Down syndrome, senior Justin Weisner was not considered starting lineup material. But with one touchdown run he changed everyone's expectations.

It was complete madness at a high school football game between Newton-Conover and West Caldwell in early November. Newton-Conover Red Devil running back Paul Forney was on the field at the time.

"It was nothing that's ever happened before," he said.

"I've never been a part of a touchdown where both teams celebrated," said Newton-Conover Coach Nick Bazzle.

All of the celebration was for senior Justin Weisner, affectionately called "J-Weezy" by his teammates.

Weisner's genetic disorder causes mental and physical limitations, but he refuses to let that slow him down.

Bazzle says Weisner made the varsity team this year as a senior. He was a backup lineman, who, as coach puts it, "Kept talking about wanting to score a touchdown."

Red Devil left tackle Michael Comer says Weisner is constantly asking, "All the time, 'Coach, can I run the ball? Coach, me quarterback?"

When asked why, Weisner replies, "It feels good."

Just like his big smile, Weisner's belief in himself brings out the best in his teammates.

"It's cool just to see him always smiling. He always tells us that we're going to win," said Comer.

Forney describes Weisner as "real funny. Everybody likes him on the team."

But the backup lineman didn’t see much playing time. Nevertheless, Coach Bazzle says, "He stayed pretty persistent wanting to run the football."

So the coach made up a play during practice, which the 5-feet-8, 220-pound senior affectionately calls "12 Big."

Weisner would run while the defense fell down at the mere sight of him.

"We'd always make time to let Justin practice his play," said Bazzle.

But on Nov. 6, Bazzle worked it out so he could run the play during a game against West Caldwell.

"So his eyes get all big and he's real excited," Bazzle said.

Forney remembers thinking, "At first I thought he was just joking around."

But the play was called, and just as expected, Weisner ran and his opponents in the white jerseys fell down at the mere sight of him. In fact, Weisner made it all the way to the end zone.

And then, something unexpected happened.

"The sideline emptied," said Bazzle.

Swarmed by high-fives from players in both colors, Weisner, the former backup lineman, had brought out the best in the entire stadium. Players piled on top of him, the roar from the stadium was deafening. Comer couldn't believe his eyes.

"It's awesome to see the sportsmanship that comes out with the two teams," he said.

Bazzle says Weisner showed everyone what high school sports is all about.

"There probably weren't many dry eyes left in the stand," he said.

And while Weisner's teammates prepare for the playoffs, the only thing on his mind right now is, "More 12 big!"

I know Newton, NC will remember this touchdown for years.


  1. Our son was on a basketball team and it was a wonderful experience for him, the team and their opponents as well. The parents eventually got with it too. Boy Scouts was a terrific experience as well.

    Best of luck - I had to leave the coaching to my oldest son (I'm a clutz.Life with a child who has Down syndrome is the best.

    6 months after Josh was born with Down syndrome, I attended my first parent group. I was touched by the struggle people were having with “why?” I went to bed with a heavy heart and awoke with this story. I hope you enjoy it.

  2. Thank you - I did read your have lots going wishes


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