Special kids on the football team

I’ve gotten more and more into watching professional football recently. I’m a former Michigander and current Detroit Lions fan, and football has become increasingly more exciting to tune into over the past couple years. I wanted to share a couple football stories I’ve seen pop up this fall.

CBS’ On the Road covered the story of a middle school student and football player with special needs in Olivet, Michigan. Keith Moore has a learning disability, and according to his classmates, was never cool or popular.

His teammates wanted Keith to know he was a valuable team member, so they devised a plan—a plan not to score. I was almost in tears when I saw the footage of Keith’s teammate stopping at the one-yard line when he could have easily scored. The next play, Keith’s teammates furiously blocked for him as he scored his first touchdown.

Steve Hartman interviewed wide receiver Justice Miller, who with tears running down his face said, “He went from being pretty much a nobody to making everyone’s day.”

Being part of a team can be a valuable experience, but for one of our Easter Seals families, the football story was slightly different.

Scott Gaither proudly wearing his team's jersey

Scott Gaither proudly wearing his team's jersey

You may have heard of former Easter Seals representative Scott Gaither. We’ve watched Scott grow up over the years and heard he started playing football this fall.

He has not had a superstar story like Keith, but for his family and friends, it has been an exciting time. He has had play time in 3 out of 4 games and his middle school team in Columbus, Georgia is currently undefeated.

When Scott told his parents  he was trying out for football, they were shocked. He said, “I’ve got the size and I think I can have the aggressiveness needed.”

“We did not stop him from trying, but honestly were not too optimistic. Though he had never played football and doesn’t even like watching it on TV, he got very serious about tryouts. He was at every practice, practicing in the yard on weekends with dad and running on off days to get in shape,” said his mom, Barbara. “He said he just wanted to feel a part of something before he left middle school.”

Barbara went on to say that the day Scott was given a letter in homeroom stating he had made the team was probably the happiest day of his middle school career. He has worn his jersey with pride on every game day and stands on the sidelines intently watching the game and paying attention to the coach until the moment when the coach finally yells, “Gaither! Get out there!” which is generally only when his team is winning by a good margin. Since joining the team, he has told his mom on several occasions that he is still so happy to be a part of it. When asked if he will play in high school, he says, “Nah-I just wanted to leave middle school having been a part of a team.”

Scott has made lots of friends on his team, but he has also found some of the other boys to be bullies.

Barbara still says it has been a great experience for Scott in so many ways. He even asked to go to the school dance last week and had a blast with his football buddies.

His sisters, aunt, brother-in-law and parents have acted like he was up for the Heisman trophy while watching him play. “It has been thrilling and beyond anything I ever dreamed he would or could do when he was diagnosed with autism some 12 years ago,” his proud mom said.

We’re all rooting for you, Scott!

You may have seen stories similar to the Olivet, Michigan story lately. There’s been a lot of them on television and in social media, and they pose an interesting question about inclusion. While the Olivet story is certainly heartwarming, is what Keith’s teammates did for him truly inclusive? Or is it special treatment of someone with a disability? Scott’s story seems more realistic—people with and without disabilities are bullied, and no one goes out of the way to allow Scott to score. He’s just a part of the team.

I’d love to know your thoughts on these stories and about inclusion—please feel free to comment below.


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