Chance gets his chance
Ariel White has gone to great lengths with her son Chance to make him feel as if he's just like his five brothers and sisters, despite his physical limitations.
"We don't treat him any differently," White said. "I don't think really realizes it. His twin brother does everything. We let him try whatever he wants to try. If he can physically do it, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. It's worked so far."
White faced her biggest challenge this summer when her son Chase, Chance's 5-year old twin brother, began playing Pop Warner.
"He doesn't grasp why he can't play," White said. "When his brothers (Chase and Thomas, 7) go to practice, he'll ask, why can't I go? I don't want him to feel left out."
Chance has club foot, which have required multiple corrective surgeries and trips to Riley's Children's Hospital. The foot specialist has told White that his issues with his arms and hands, and the absence of range of motion in his wrists and ankles could mean other medical problems.
"He's had quite a few hurdles in his life," Michigan City Pop Warner President Jerry Heath said.
Saturday in Crown Point, Chance got his chance to be one of the guys, running for a long touchdown on a play pre-arranged between the coaches and teams.
"All he wanted was to be like his brothers, and he got to have that one feeling," White said. "He was excited to tell everybody about his touchdown."
White arrived with her kids at the game, where she saw Chris and Jane Brooks, members of the Mid-America Pop Warner board whom she knew from their prior time with the Michigan City league.
"They said, since he's here, why don't we let him have the chance to run the ball?" she said.
Chance was all in, and after a moment of anxiety, White said OK.
"I was a little nervous," she said. "They're little kids, they may not understand not to tackle. It's a bunch of 5- and 6-year olds, it's the first year ever playing, the ball moves, they go get the ball. I'm like, oh God. I was pretty proud of all the kids. The boys tried to make it look like they were protecting him from getting tackled. Seeing them follow him down the field, protecting the ball, it actually made it part of the fun."
Chase White, left, congratulates his twin brother Chance for scoring a touchdown in their Pop Warner Football game last week.
Taking the ball at his team's 35-yard line, Chase navigated his way down the field, picking up a convoy of blockers along the way.
"As he got toward the end zone, he started getting tired," White said. "Everybody was crying. He was like, what are you all crying for? He's in a wheelchair a lot of times. The people who have been around him, who see him struggling and know what he's been through, they know making that touchdown means a lot."
Heath wasn't there, watching his son's junior varsity game, saw the video on Facebook not long after.
"I was grinning ear to ear," he said. "You see things like that on Facebook, on the news, where a ball boy gets in the game in the last 30 seconds and scores a basket. It's always nice to see the other team's players go along with it, to let them have their moment. La Porte did it a couple years ago. There are good coaches, good people out there."
It's personal to Heath, whose 22-year old daughter Libby has Down Syndrome. She was a cheerleader in high school and still plays in a Challenger baseball league in Portage. He knows what it means to children with disabilities and their parents for the kids to be included.
"I've known Ariel three, four years," Heath said. "She has a small herd. They're great kids, a great family. We love having them in the program. They're like our step kids. We treat them like our own kids. We got Chance in the Challenger league last summer and he had a blast. We got him a jersey and shoulder pads so he feels like one of the guys. We have him on the sideline. He's absolutely loving it. He feels as much a part of the team as any kid."
White, a member of the M.C. Pop Warner board, has had children in the program for six years, since her oldest daughter, now 12, began cheerleading. Thomas started playing two years ago at 5 in the Tiny Mites Division.
"We're a big sports family," she said. "They grew up out there on the field. It's all Tom wanted to do when he was old enough, to play football, and then (the twins) wanted to play, too."
There's a possibility that Chance's touchdown might not be a one-time deal.
"They may do it once a game," White said. "Sometimes, he gets sore and doesn't want to move much. It's all depends on how he feels."
Note: We're having some issues getting the video posted, but it can be viewed on White's Facebook page.