When a Coach Made This Simple Gesture for My Son With Special Needs
They couldn’t be any more different.
Coach and my son.
Coach spends his afternoons and weekends instructing and developing high school athletes into skilled baseball players. It’s his passion. He spent so much of his own life on the baseball diamond, fueling his own competitive aspirations.
He was really good — so good he even managed at the apex of his career to make it to “the show” with the Cincinnati Reds, as Crash Davis referred to the big leagues in the movie “Bull Durham.”
He works endlessly now with young athletes, honing their skills and cultivating their talents.
Every day he challenges them, pushes them and encourages them with the same competitive fire he brought to his own game.
He’s watched so many of the players go on to further their careers playing baseball in college. That has to be so satisfying to him as a coach.
My son isn’t one of those skilled athletes. My son isn’t even one of those players.
Cerebral palsy, seizures and autism have denied my son any opportunity life may have had for him in that arena. I’ve long come to terms with that fact. I’ve laid down my fatherly dreams of playing catch with my son, shooting hoops in the driveway with him or even swinging a bat together.
Those were exceedingly hard dreams to let go of as a father. A father who spent his own childhood always in the gym or on the field, playing some form of sports. A father who played basketball for his own father in high school.
I still remember when I earned my first varsity letter jacket. I don’t think I took it off for the first year. I remember being measured for my first high school uniform and proudly declaring I wanted number 22.
My son will never have those same experiences. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t feel any remorse or longing whatsoever. Only his dad does.
Everyone in our little town knows the coach they see in the afternoons and on weekends.
Very few people know the coach I see from 8 to 3 every school day.
Very few people know that Coach is one of my son’s classroom assistants in his comprehensive development class. He’s the one primarily working with my son all day long.
Coach meets us at the car in the mornings to assist us in getting our son into school with his mobility issues. He works with him throughout the day, assisting him hand-over-hand with every task, every function and every aspect of his day. He then helps us get my son back to the car and loaded up at the end of the day.
He’s my son’s eyes, his hands, his feet, and rest assured, he has his back.
I don’t worry about my son too much when he’s at school because Coach watches out for him.
What a contrast it must be, working with my mobility-impaired, cognitively challenged son during the day, and then working with skilled young athletes in the afternoons.
Recently, we all read about the high school student with Down syndrome and autism who was forced to quit wearing the varsity letter jacket that his parents had purchased for him. “He’s not on the team,” they cried. “He shouldn’t get to wear the jacket.”
I understand both sides of the argument. But as a special needs dad, my heart broke for that young man and his family.
I was reminded of that this very week.
As Coach walked my son out to the waiting car, he leaned in and simply said, “My boy needs a shirt.”
“My boy.” (Oh, how I love that!)
Courtesy of Coach, my son came home from school the next day with his own Cavalier baseball T-shirt.
No, it’s not a uniform. But we don’t need uniforms to show we’re on the same team.
A simple gesture but a powerful statement. A gift that is priceless to me.
How do you put a price on dignity, significance, character and honor?
Sometimes the best lessons a coach can teach don’t involve words. Sometimes, a T-shirt will suffice.
We’re all on the same team.
Life lessons for all of us, courtesy of Coach.
Follow this journey on Goodnight Superman.