There are times when I worry about the future, about people and the way we treat one another because of our differences. Rather than celebrate the differences, many times we make fun of them, and mistreat those who are different. But for every story like this morning’s post about the server and the bigot, I stumble across one like this that makes me smile and gives me hope that those kids coming up after us will make things better.
Rather than be the group that picks on the different kid, the Oliver Middle School football team has brought Keith into their group; he’s kind of like the team mascot; he eats with the team at lunch and they walk with him through the halls. But they wanted to do a little something more for Keith and in doing so they also did a great thing for themselves.
They had a plan, just the team. No coaches were told; no parents involved. They spent weeks working out the logistics of their plan, and on game day they put it into motion.
"Everyone was in on it."—Nick Jungel.
"But the coaches didn't know anything about it. We were, like, going behind their back."—Parker Smith
"It's just like to make someone's day, make someone's week, just make them happy"—Justice Miller
Their plan was that would try as hard as they could not to score. The first part of their plan was to try to get as close to the goal line as possible without scoring, even if it meant stopping on the one-year line, which they did. And the crowd wasn't happy with it.
"But us kids knew, hey, we got this, this is our time, this is Keith's time. We thought it would be cool to do something for him."—Parker Smith
And they did. Keith was brought onto the field and when the ball was snapped, the quarterback handed it off to Keith, and then the entire Olivet Middle School football team surrounded Keith Orr and helped him walk the ball across the goal line to score a touchdown.
Keith called that moment “awesome” but the players also felt something they didn’t expect.
"Nothing can really explain getting a touchdown when you've never had one before. Once I saw him go in, I was smiling to here," says Justice Miller, pointing to his cheeks. "Nothing could wipe that smile off my face."
And when he was asked why it affected him so much, Justice turns emotional, "Because he's never been cool or popular, and he went from being, like, pretty much a nobody to making everyone's day."
Justice admits the play wasn't his idea, saying, "I would have not really thought of that. … I kind of went from being somebody who mostly cared about myself and my friends to caring about everyone and trying to make everyone's day and everyone's life."
And he did, and the team did. Keith’s parents were in the crowd that day and almost missed what happened because it was so unexpected.
"It was like, 'Did he just score a touchdown?'" Keith's mom, Carrie, says.
"Get your camera out!" his dad, Jim, remembers saying.
They almost missed it, but what it meant will stay with them forever:
"Somebody is always going to have his back -- from now until the day he graduates."
And they should, because he’s different, not better or worse, and that makes him just like everyone else; different.
And now he’s been changed, and the team and school, have been changed, and his parents as well. All because he was allowed to carry a ball over a line.