Score one for sportsmanship

Posted on October 15, 2010. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns |

There was a high school football game last Friday night that I wish I had attended.

It was the gridiron match-up between the Manila Lions and the Rivercrest Colts, the top-ranked team in 3A ball.

The game wasn’t much of a contest. The mercy rule was in effect in the fourth quarter after the visiting Colts had built up a 47-0 lead over the home team. But with just over five minutes left, the crowd on both sides of the field was brought to a rousing standing ovation.

That’s when Lion Dylan Galloway’s lifelong dream was realized. The Manila senior, who was born with cerebral palsy, was handed the ball and, with his black helmet and No. 55 jersey on, steered his electric wheelchair around the left side and into the end zone.

Even though I missed the game, I got to watch that play, thanks to the wonder of Internet video technology. The game was filmed by local cable company Ritter Communications, which posted Dylan’s touchdown play on its YouTube channel.

I was the 32,847th viewer of the two-minute clip in which the raucous outburst of cheers serves as background audio.

“Both sides, both the home and visitor stands, just erupted,” Manila Coach Toby Doke said.

Even without the sound, I would have believed it. I was silently cheering at my computer. And while I didn’t see any of the touchdowns that Rivercrest scored, I doubt that any of them delivered the same feel-good factor to the audience. After all, it’s one thing to win a football game and quite another to watch a dream come true before your very eyes.

After Dylan’s score, the entire Manila team surrounded him in celebration, and as he wheeled off the field he was greeted by the full complement of exuberant Lion cheerleaders.

That moment, preserved in digital video, is proof that there can be victory in defeat, and that, thankfully, sportsmanship still lives and sometimes triumphs.

The conspiracy of compassion involved Doke, Rivercrest Coach Kelly Chandler and the ordinarily stalwart Colt defensive players, who joined in applause as Dylan crossed the goal line. To commemorate his touchdown, the Colt players all signed a football for him.

The episode is a refreshing contrast to unsettling news stories about high school students involving issues such as alcohol and drug abuse, “sexting” and bullying.

It also catapults Arkansas into a prestigious national limelight, coming after similarly classy incidents at Washington and Wisconsin highschool football games earlier this year.

Finally, Dylan’s touchdown put some points on the board for better public understanding of cerebral palsy, or CP.

According to the United Cerebral Palsy’s vocabulary tips, CP is “a term used to describe a group of chronic conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination.” It’s estimated that about 764,000 children and adults in the United States display symptoms of CP. Each year, about 8,000 babies and infants are diagnosed with the condition.

One of the most effective management approaches for children with CP is a concept called conductive education. The term originates from the Latin verb conducere, which means to connect, to unite, to gather things together.

Hungarian physician and educator Andras Peto developed his conductive educational system in 1945 after World War II. Conductive education represents a breakthrough and a new paradigm in the treatment and wellbeing of persons with disabilities.

There are 22 states listed as having members in the Association of Conductive Education of North America. The only program here is located in Northwest Arkansas and was founded by a friend of mine, Leslie Porter, in 2001. It became a part of UCP of Arkansas in 2002.

Porter’s story still serves as the “About Us” section of the Conductive Education of Northwest Arkansas website, where she provides a better than-textbook description of the system and its effectiveness in children where motor skills are diminished but brain development isn’t.

In researching conductive education for her daughter, Mackenzie, Porter wrote that she originally got her information on the Internet, reading testimonials from other parents. When she and her husband Phillip decided to first place Mackenzie in a month-long conductive education program in Dallas, they “were impressed by the knowledge of the conductors (teachers), the intensity of the daily routine, and the overall positive and encouraging atmosphere.”

Realizing that Mackenzie and others would benefit from a conductive education program here, the Porters hired the first full time conductor in September 2001. The school moved into a larger facility in 2006, allowing the expansion of classrooms and addition of more students with motor disabilities.

“Today, our classes are full of excited and determined boys and girls and we continue to grow every day to reach our highest potential of independence,” her story concludes.

Good news doesn’t get much reporting sometimes. But it’s still out there, with its unique power to warm the heart and wet the eye.

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