Ike Ditzenberger & the Golden Age of Handicapable Athletics


Ike Ditzenberger & the Golden Age of Handicapable Athletics

  • Ike Ditzenberger & the Golden Age of Handicapable Athletics

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    Roughly a decade ago, the Comedy Central series Strangers With Candy, starring a then-unknown Stephen Colbert as a closeted, self-centered high school history teacher, featured an episode in which a blind student was allowed to play on the football team. He's permitted to carry the ball, and gets flattened by the opposition. This year, TV's Glee has a wheelchair-bound student scoring touchdowns for his school's football team. We've come a long way, baby--and the exploits of physically challenged athletes are hardly restricted to the boob tube, as the moving story of Ike Ditzenberger proves.

    Ditzenberger, as Steve Kelley writes, is a Snohomish High School student who has Down syndrome. Unlike most kids coping with Down's, Ditzenberger wanted to play football like his older brother had. Without hesitating, Snohomish's coach, Mark Perry, welcomed him to the team.

    In a recent game against rival Lake Stevens High, Perry, his team down 35-0, inserted Ditzenberger into the game and requested that the Lake Stevens players let him "run around for 10 or 20 yards before you tackle him." The Lake Stevens kids did Perry one better, letting Ditzenberger jog 51 yards into the end zone untouched, sacrificing their shutout for a greater good. (Ditzenberger stepped out of bounds early in his scoring romps, but the refs looked the other way.)

    That's a touching story, but n terms of legitimate athletic achievement, it pales in comparison to a little-used autistic high school basketball player named Jason McElwain pouring in 20 points in three minutes against an opponent which actually tried to prevent him from scoring. "J-Mac," as he was known to classmates, became a folk hero, and maybe Ditzenberger will too. But, really, get a load of J-Mac, circa 2006:

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