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Wheelchair-bound player scores fans for life

After the game, Woodland Middle JV players shake hands with Sunset and sixth-grader Jared Stevens, who participated in a play in his wheelchair.

Sunset, Woodland football teams share winning moment

For Brentwood Home Page
Last week, two middle school JV football teams ended their seasons as winners and it had nothing to do with the score.

In the fourth quarter with only a minute to play, the Woodland defense took the field and the Sunset offense began walking to their places. Two players brought sixth-grade Sunset student Jared Stevens to the field. The quarterback took the snap and brought the ball to Jared. Both teams escorted Jared’s wheelchair up the field.

In unity, one team with one goal gave a young man who normally cannot play football the opportunity to make the play.

Sunset Middle JV player Jared Stevens is pushed by teammates onto the football field for a play during the game with Woodland Middle. (Photos by Jodi Rall) 

There was complete silence on both sides of the Crockett Park field as parents, fans and players watched it unfold. There were many teary eyes.

“The most touching part was when the kids began faking that they were tripping themselves getting into the spirit of making the experience as real as possible for the young man. It was a great gesture and my only wish is that they would have had the boy take it all the way to score,” shared Mike Winstead, Woodland’s assistant coach.

As the team brought Jared back to the Sunset sideline, cheering erupted from both sides.

Yes, Woodland owned the scoreboard, but in the game of life every young athlete on the field became a winner for experiencing something much greater than a soon-to-be-forgotten score.

Video showing Sunset Middle JV player Jared Stevens being pushed in wheelchair for play during game with Woodland

Among those who witnessed the scene was former Tennessee Titan Mike Archie, who also played under Joe Paterno at Penn State. His son Michael is one of Jared’s teammates.

“It speaks volumes about the coaching staff that they want every child to have the full experience,” said the former NFL player who now coaches youth football himself. “I commend all the other coaches for allowing Jared to get to play this season.

“As I told my son Michael, playing football is not a right, it is a privilege; don’t think for one moment that Jared does not wish he had the privilege to run down that field. Making something special and memorable for Jared is what you will remember about this season.”

Archie would love to see the story air on ESPN, he said. “Coach (Clay) Mayes and his coaching staff make sure every kid on the team plays. It is all about the experience.”

 Sunset varsity football players and fans cheer for Jared.
Austin Perk from WMS goes out to greet Jared on the field.
 Both teams escort Jared in his wheelchair up the field.

The experience was made possible when Mayes called for Woodland’s Coach Larry Reasonover to meet him at the center of the field right before the play.

“When I saw Coach Mayes coming across the field, I didn’t know what was going on,” Reasonover recalled. “When he explained the situation, I knew it was something that we had to do. As I approached our team to explain to them what was about to happen, I didn’t have to say a word. They told me, ‘We got this Coach.’”

Jared Stevens in new to the community. The sixth grader’s family moved here at the start of the school year.

A triplet, Jared’s brothers Alex and Ryan – Sunset seventh graders – also play on the JV team. The boys were born prematurely and Jared suffers from Cerebral Palsy.

To his parents, Phil and Lisa Stevens, and siblings, however, “Jared being in a wheelchair is normal. We don’t think anything about it,” Phil Stevens said. “We encourage all our children to do their best and while Jared performs academically and perfect intellectually, his body just can’t do all that other boys his age can.”

Jared had taken the field two times earlier this season. Mayes and Coach Brian Shaw found a place to plug Jared into the team after taking the time to research and find the right equipment for him.

His first game was against Grassland. He went in when Sunset was down 20-0.

“Coach Shaw came over to me at the Grassland game and said, ‘We need to get Jared in on the play.’ He put it in my heart and mind to make it happen. The officials and coaches who helped get Jared out there all deserve credit,” Mayes shared.

Jared was the only boy to score for Sunset that night – and he scored the two-point conversion. Jared also got to play against Page Middle School.

For inspiration, Mayes and his staff read Season of Life, by Jeffrey Marx. “Without those philosophies that our coaching staff adopted, Jared would not have been out there. If we only focused on the win, look what we would have missed,” Mayes said. “I’m not just building football players, we coaches are developing men for others.”

“What a great community we live in here in Brentwood where two middle schools who are fierce competitors can put aside their own goals to win and embrace Jared,  experiencing what is more important,” Sunset Principal Dr. Tim Brown said. “We are happy to have Jared and his brothers a part of the Sunset family.”

Jared is pictured with his triplet brothers Alex and Ryan, who also play for Sunset. (Submitted photo)

At the football banquet held over the weekend at Coach Mayes house, Jared won the JV Courage Award. In addition to football, Jared has played in the Challenger Baseball league and has been a basketball coach.

Jared, Alex and Ryan aren’t the only kids in the Stevens’ family. There’s also older sister Lauren, who is a high school senior back in Florida and Andrew, a sophomore at Ravenwood.  

The game’s impact will not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed it. After the game, a Woodland player put it all in to perspective.

“I will never take for granted my legs and being able to run up and down the field,” he said.

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