The inspiring story of a football player's shining moment.
- Posted on Oct 7, 2010
*Photo by Game Time Video Productions
Ike Ditzenberger, a 17-year-old junior running back, sat on the bench, awaiting his moment to run on the field and do something special. For three years, he had trained daily with the Everett, Washington’s Snohomish High junior varsity football team, practicing handoffs, doing agility drills.
One Friday night about a month ago, he dressed with the varsity team. With 10 seconds remaining and Snohomish losing 35-0 to nearby Lake Stevens High, the coach signaled Ditzenberger into the game. First play, he told his team, Ditzenberger would carry the ball.
Any kid would have called it his dream moment. What made it extraordinary is that Ditzenberger has Down syndrome.
Head coach Mark Perry told the Everett Herald that he made Ditzenberger a deal. “If you keep your shoulder pads on and your mouth piece in,” he promised, “you’re going to get to play.”
Ditzenberger is not built like a prototypical running back. He’s five-feet-five and a little portly. But he had watched his older brother, Jake, a wide receiver, play, and Ike wanted to play, too. Not just to mimic Jake, but to bond with him.
Along the way, the team bonded with him, too. “He’s someone that everybody can kind of enjoy, because he has such a great personality and character,” senior co-captain Keith Wigney told the Herald. Perry concluded every practice by running The Ike Special, in which Ditzenberg took a handoff and, with the help of artful, just-miss tackles by teammates, ran headlong through the line.
The crowd cheered that Friday as Ditzenberger ran onto the field. The quarterback called for The Ike Special and handed him the ball. Thanks in part to the cooperation of the opposing coach and his players, Ditzenberger broke tackles and rumbled downfield. He ran 51 yards. He scored a touchdown, his very first. His team’s only points.
Ron Berler is a writer in New York City who specializes in sports.