Haines Middle School has one game left in its eighth-grade football season, and, as always, Jack McGraw plans to be there.
He is not counting on handling the ball again, but that’s no issue. The carry McGraw made last week figures to stay with him for awhile.
McGraw has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, conditions that easily were overlooked when he scored a touchdown in Haines’ Oct. 2 game against Rotolo Middle School’s gold team.
“He hasn’t ever lacked in self-confidence other than in regular ways that kids kind of do here and there,” said McGraw’s mother, Jill. “In the past couple weeks, it’s just been wonderful. He’s felt like he’s a rock star, but maybe that’s because he’s been treated like one.”
ABC News blogged about McGraw, while a television crew from Fox Chicago visited him at a recent Haines practice. The story also has hovered around the community’s periphery. McGraw’s close friend recently heard chatter about the play at a family function before grinning and proudly speaking up about his ties to McGraw.
McGraw has been part of the Haines football program for the past two seasons, attending practices while donning a jersey and cheering incessantly at games.
Before the season, Haines coach Sean Masoncup hatched an idea to get him a touchdown. He kept the plan secret from players until the moment it happened, asking only that Jill McGraw suggest her son’s physical therapists help him work with his right hand during weekly sessions.
McGraw uses his left hand to maneuver his chair. After Rotolo willingly turned the ball over on downs in the closing seconds of an eighth-grade tournament game at Reid Field, he took the ball from Hurricanes quarterback Zach Mettetal with his right hand and headed toward the end zone.
Approached by Masoncup before the game, Rotolo co-coach David Jonathan replied there was “absolutely no reason not to” get his players on board. Rotolo cleared a path for McGraw, and seemed to absorb the energy as athletes from both teams engulfed McGraw in the end zone.
“We’re all kind of dumbfounded by the whole thing, to be honest with you,” Jonathan said. “If you ask any one of the three coaches, we don’t think we did anything that warrants all of this. We did what we thought was right, and it definitely was right.”
Haines is set to play Wredling for the tournament title at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Reid Field.
Whether McGraw shows up on the stat sheet or not, he’s already made an impact.
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.