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CHRISTMAS IN OCTOBER
It had been a long night for Coach Tony Cloward and his
The Cowboys were just 3-6 on the season and had already been eliminated from contention for a state title. But they hoped to end the season on a high note in front of the home fans in a game against the state tournament-bound Morgan High Trojans.
The first half was a hard-fought battle, and the Trojans held a slight 6-0 lead at halftime. Morgan increased its lead to 12-0 early in the third quarter, but the Cowboys fought back to bring the score to 12-6 entering the fourth quarter of play. Two long drives by the Trojans made the score 28-6 for Morgan, and as the seconds ticked away on the scoreboard clock it became clear to everyone present that once again there would not be a happy ending for the Cowboys.
Or would there?
With just a few minutes left in the Cowboys’ season, a feint chant could be heard coming from the Grantsville student section. At first it was difficult to hear exactly what they were chanting. It was “we want” somebody – but who? As more and more students picked up the cheer, the message was clear: “We want Collin!”
Despite the disappointment of the game and the season, Coach Cloward couldn’t help but smile. Collin Jefferies was a senior, and had been an asset to the Grantsville football program for four years. But as team manager – not as a player. As a baby Collin had contracted spinal meningitis, which left him deaf in one ear, partially deaf in the other, partially paralyzed and mentally challenged. He loved helping the coaches and the team behind the scenes, and Coach Cloward wanted to reward him for his hard work and unyielding good attitude by allowing him to put on the pads and the Cowboy uniform and sit on the bench with the team for that last game.
And now his classmates wanted him to actually play.
Coach Cloward hesitated at first – not so much because he didn’t want Collin to play, but because he didn’t want him to get hurt. But the students were insistent – the chant grew louder with each tick of the clock – and the look on Collin’s face told him that whatever happened, it would be worth it.
“Collin has been here all four years and hasn’t missed a single practice, meeting or function of the team,” the coach said after the game. “He earned the right to get on the field.”
As Collin strapped on his helmet and charged onto the field for the last few minutes of the game the Grantsville crowd erupted in the loudest, most enthusiastic cheers of the night. At first the Morgan High fans didn’t understand why the home crowd was so excited and the Cowboy players were so jubilantly energized when it was painfully clear that they were going to lose so decisively. But one look at the animated, partially paralyzed boy moving into the Cowboy huddle told them that something special was happening.
this was a
What the record doesn’t show is the Grantsville student body streaming onto the field at the end of the game, most of them with tears streaming down their faces, to carry Collin off on their shoulders, sincerely rejoicing as if he had led them to the state championship. Nor does it show the tears in the eyes of many of the Morgan High players, coaches and fans, who understood that what was happening was more important than a football game, and who embraced the moment – even reveled in it – with a dignified show of sportsmanship and good will. Nor does it show the picture of an extraordinary young man who was so overwhelmingly joyful that he wore his football uniform home and would have worn it to bed if his mother had allowed it – pads, helmet and all.
“It has been like Christmas in October,” Collin’s mother said.
And who could ask for anything better than that – especially at the end of a long football season.
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