A winning play in the game of life
By Denise Crosby email@example.com October 4, 2012 3:22PM
Updated: October 5, 2012 11:33AM
You probably won’t find this one in too many playbooks.
First game of the playoffs. Little over a minute on the clock. Visitors backed up on their own 5-yard line. Suddenly, the quarterback takes a knee. The crowd shakes its collective head in puzzlement as the home team takes over with just yards separating it from another score.
The seconds tick down. The QB calls a 37 Sweep. The ball is snapped. He hands it off. Number 10 rolls to the outside — literally — then into the end zone untouched.
And both sides of the field — athletes, coaches, fans — erupt in celebration.
The play, created by St. Charles’ Haines Middle School Coach Sean Masoncup — with the blessing of the visiting Batavia coaches — allowed Jack McGraw, in a wheelchair for his 13 years of life, to score his first touchdown.
I wish I could have been there to see it myself. But at least one witness, Haines parent Todd Bancroft, called it “the most memorable game of my life.”
Masoncup, who is also head tennis and assistant basketball coach at St. Charles North High School, was equally effusive. “I’ve coached a lot of games,” he said, “But this was the greatest game I could ever imagine.”
Sean Masoncup met Jack McGraw in the halls of Haines Middle School when the youngster with cerebral palsy was a sixth-grader. Impressed by his personality that included a passion for football, the coach invited the boy to come out for the middle school team the following year, where he quickly became an integral part of the Hurricane sidelines, whether it was cheering on the other players or suggesting game strategies.
Jack has always loved football, said his mother, Jill McGraw. Even as a little kid, he’d watch games on TV for hours, dreaming of the day he’d be able to run like the Bears’ Matt Forte.
It wasn’t until he got older, she said, that Jack realized his disabilities would prevent him from being able to play in a regular football game, much less carry the ball into the end zone.
“Jack had his moments, where he wondered why he couldn’t be like everyone else,” Jill McGraw said.
But she and husband Michael were always there to remind him to focus, not on what he couldn’t do but on the possibilities that remained.
It was that positive attitude that led to Coach Masoncup’s idea: At some point this season, Jack would score a touchdown. He even asked the boy’s mom to make sure Jack’s physical therapist would work on his wheelchair mobility and hand strength in preparation for that big chance.
Masoncup saw this opportunity during Wednesday’s first round game of the eighth-grade middle school tournament at Reid Field in St. Charles. As the clock ticked down, the undefeated Haines Hurricanes were four touchdowns ahead of the Rotolo Bulldogs. Masoncup drew the Batavia coaches aside and asked if they would be part of this very special play.
Absolutely, they replied, then strategically used their time-outs so there would be enough seconds on the clock to make sure this touchdown counted, even if it was against them.
It did. In a big way.
As the ref threw his hands in the air, so also did Jack. Later, Masoncup saw a small tear and a big smile on his running back’s face.
His mother saw pride, although Jack tried to downplay the moment. “I don’t know what the big deal is,” he told his mom. “No one even tried to stop me.”
That’s when Jill McGraw explained this play was so much bigger than the touchdown itself. “You are changing a small part of the world,” she told Jack, as she reminded him people didn’t always treat those with disabilities so inclusively.
For parents like Todd Bancroft, the play was a way to say thanks for contributions to a team that “can come in a variety of forms.”
Even Rotolo Coach David Jonathan got a tear or two in his eye as both sidelines cheered. “It was special,” he said. “These kids will always remember it.”