No, this isn’t a scene from the beloved football film, “Rudy.” But it sure comes close.
Jack McGraw, a 13-year-old, eighth-grade student at Haines Middle School in St. Charles, Ill., was given the opportunity to achieve his dream of scoring a touchdown Oct. 2 at his school’s Football Invitational Tournament.
Granted, most young athletes dream of the moment they cross the goal line, but this moment was especially meaningful for Jack, who has cerebral palsy and relies on his wheelchair for mobility.
“It was a great opportunity for him. He’s on the team,” Jack’s football coach, Sean Masoncup, said. “He’s got a jersey and is on the sidelines every game. He comes to every practice. He’s sort of like a team member and assistant coach.”
Despite his disability, Jack has been an integral part of the school’s football team for the past two years.
“My son had helped out with the seventh-grade football team last year, and this year he wanted to do it again. I had emailed the coach, and no one ever hesitates to include him,” Jack’s mother, Jill, said. “He said they’d love to have him. He told me he’d like to, at some point in the season, get him in for a play.”
And with that, Masoncup got the ball rolling to surprise Jack in a big way. Masoncup knew Jack had physical therapy sessions every week and would sometimes have to miss practice, so he suggested one tactic that would secretly help him get closer to fulfilling his dream.
“Why don’t you work on him being able to use his left hand to motorize the chair and the other hand being able to hold a football?,” Masoncup asked Jack’s mom. “She asked, ‘Why?’ And I told her about a touchdown idea.”
Everyone kept it a total surprise from Jack. Not even his fellow teammates knew this would happen until the day of the game.
On the fourth down with only 23 seconds left in the game, the opposing team took a knee, turned possession of the ball over to Jack, and the entire stadium watched as he made his way to the end zone, scoring a touchdown for his beloved Haines Hurricanes.
“He was really excited,” Masoncup said. “He’s always wanted to be a part of it. He really enjoys sports. It was our way as coaches of helping him to live his dream out.
“I think he was a little nervous, but once he scored, he was just ecstatic. It was one of the best moments of my coaching career.”
It was a very powerful moment for Jack’s mother, too.
“People have asked me how I felt when he crossed the end zone. For me it wasn’t even that, it was just the way parents, the cheerleaders, the kids were all just cheering,” she said. “It was the level of acceptance that I know kids with disabilities haven’t had in the past. They treat him so well.”
And as for Jack himself, his mother said, “He’s been on cloud nine. He pretty much thinks he’s a rock star.”
To read Jack McGraw’s blog about his cerebral palsy, click here.