Middle Schoolers' Act of Sportsmanship Goes Viral
It was pure grit and determination that led seventh-grader Jared Stevens to the mat of his first wrestling match last Thursday. His opponent, 12-year-old Justin Kievit, was there because his coaches thought he had the biggest heart on his team.
The way that the two boys, both from Brentwood, Tenn., conducted themselves on the wrestling mat has people from all over the world commending them as true sportsmen.
Jared, 13, who moved to Brentwood just one year ago from Florida, has cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder that leaves him wheelchair-bound and with the physical capabilities of roughly a six-month-old. Still, Jared, who is a triplet, wanted to play sports like his brothers, and so he joined the wrestling team.
On Thursday, Jared got the chance to go to the mat in an exhibition match for his Sunset Middle School team against Justin, a student from Freedom Middle School who was picked for the face-off not because of his weight class or ability but because his coaches knew he would know what to do.
"Coach Mays [from Sunset Middle School] went to the other coach, Randi Stevens, [no relation to Jared] and asked him which kid had the kindest heart and the coach picked Justin out of the lineup," Jared's father, Phil Stevens, told ABCNews.com today.
A cellphone video that Stevens shot of the match and posted to YouTube for their family and friends to view has gone viral because of the way that Justin handled the match. In the video, seen more than 200,000 times on YouTube and Facebook alone, the two competitors shake hands before Justin helps pull Jared's arm over his own body so he gets pinned, giving Jared the win.
Jared, who helped coach the team before convincing his parents and coaches to let him compete, is a junior varsity wrestler, while Justin is a full-bodied seventh-grader and captain of his school's varsity squad.
He said, 'Justin was tougher than I thought. He was pretty strong,'" Stevens said of his son. "That's the biggest part of this thing, how great a job Justin did. That was just amazing."
Jared, who was in school and not available for comment, is something of a local legend in Brentwood for his resilience both on the field and off. He played in around three football games - in his wheelchair - last season and also helps coach his school's basketball team. He also attends classes and participates in activities with his peers through the school's inclusion program.
That, his father says, makes the school district's coaches, teachers and Jared's fellow students the real legends.
"They've embraced Jared," Stevens said. "I'm dropping him off at practice like the other parents and the coaches are picking him up from there and supporting Jared's desires to participate."
"If the coaches were only concerned about winning, Jared wouldn't play," he said. "For the coaches there, it's about teaching these young kids sportsmanship and morals and characters. To me, that's the differentiator, having teachers and coaches willing to go beyond the scoreboard."
Justin and his parents were unavailable for comment when reached today by ABCNews.com. Stevens says the boys have not seen each other since the match but the two families plan to get together this weekend "to let the boys hang out and talk."
That meeting will happen, of course, as long as it doesn't conflict with Jared's athletic practices, or the next thing he's told his mom and dad he'd like to accomplish: becoming certified to scuba dive.