Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Disabled Doesn't Mean Unabled
Have you heard the story about Winfred Cooper scoring the game-tying touchdown last week?
No? You will now.
Cooper is an 18-year-old senior at Elgin High School where he plays on the junior varsity football team. He's got a 3.6 GPA, runs on the track team, volunteers in the lunch room, raises money for kids with autism and is applying to the University of Michigan. Oh, and he's got severe autism himself.
Last week, with the help of his teammates, coaches, and the opposing team and coaches, Winfred Cooper caught the ball and ran 67 yards into the end zone for the only touchdown he's ever scored in his football career. He lived his dream and he celebrated in the end zone with his trademark dance, "The Winfred Shuffle."
Cooper's touchdown tied the game, which Lake Park High School went on to win 13-6.
So what life lessons were learned that day last week?
1. Winning isn't everything. Yes, Lake Park was winning when Cooper scored the touchdown and they ended up winning the game, but the team put their own win in jeopardy so one boy could have his own personal win that will be remembered long after everyone will have forgotten the final score.
2. You can't judge a book by its cover. I'm sure many people wondered in silence (and maybe aloud) about the wisdom in tossing the ball to Winfred Cooper who spent most of his football career on the sidelines. He proved them all wrong.
3. Sometimes the needs of one person outweigh the needs of the group. Surely, Winfred Cooper will carry this success throughout his life and when he has doubts about his abilities in the future, he will look back at this football game, relive his success and know he can do anything he sets his mind to doing. To any other kid, catching the football might simply have been another catch in a career of catches and touchdowns. But I think it's safe to say that everyone in attendance at this football game walked away a better person.
4. And sometimes the needs of one person ARE the needs of the group. I think it's safe to say that everyone in attendance walked away a better person. Everyone learned that so-called disabled people aren't unabled people, and given just a little help, they can succeed beyond everyone's wildest imagination.
My eyes welled up this afternoon as I read about Winfred Cooper's inspiring story. He's obviously had the benefits of parents who believed in him and didn't accept a diagnosis of autism to mean their son's life would amount to nothing. They pushed him and they pushed the schools to give him opportunities and to challenge their son and not simply write him off.
But I can't help but wonder with all the recent cuts in services for the developmentally disabled, how many children in Illinois and all over the country will never experience the win that Winfred Cooper experienced last week. How many kids will just get left behind because the help they need is unavailable?
We owe it to all the Winfred Cooper's in the world to give them every opportunity at success and the help they need to let their abilities shine through.