DENVER — Madi Green, Allie Wisinski and the Riveras — Lewis and Nico — stood together during an interview after Saturday’s round-robin tournament hosted by North Miami.
As we talked, Blackford’s Logan Wilson — a special needs athlete who everyone seemingly fell in love with — walked up to the group. Unprompted, he said, “I’ve got to go.” As Green responded “Good luck,” Wilson threw his arms around her for a hug.
Green nearly teared up and Wisinski called out, “Awwww.” After a beat, she said, “Good job, Logan.”
As the group recollected itself, Green’s smile hung in the air. “It’s things like that,” she said. Added Wisinski: “That was so cute.”
“That’s why it was hard during the second game to pull their flags because they’re all great kids, and they all got upset (when you pulled their flags),” Green added. “So I was like … it was kind of hard.”
Thrills were different. Sure, touchdowns were celebrated — but everyone celebrated them. Three teams took the field through a roughly four-hour, three-game day as Blackford, Twin Lakes and Wawasee met.
Players from each team were heard calling out to opponents, “Hey, great score” whenever a touchdown was made. Twin Lakes’ Reece Bartlett, one of four Indians special-needs athletes on the team, went around high-fiving opponents and teammates alike against both Blackford and Wawasee.
Indians special-needs athlete Kristopher Kauffman said, “Oh, we lost,” after Twin Lakes’ first game, a 47-32 loss to second-year program Wawasee. Someone responded “And?” Kauffman said, “It’s OK. We’ve got one more game” with a grin on his face. “And we’ll get them next time.”
“They change my day around,” Green said two days earlier, discussing her involvement. The team went through a brief film session Thursday, watching last year’s state semifinals and championship to get a feel for the game.
“I’ll be having a bad day, and then I’ll just go to practice, and (feel) everything’s going to be fine,” she added.
The smiles were infectious Saturday. Because there were always smiles. Special-needs athletes. Able-bodied partners. Coaches. Referees. Family members in the stands.
“The kids that come out and do this … really are genuinely excited about doing this,” Twin Lakes assistant coach Andy Venters said. “The coaches and officials out here are tickled to death about it, love seeing this. I don’t think a lot of us have ever been a part of it, and this is just unbelievable.”
Even a minute after Wilson was accidentally hit with a football playing Twin Lakes — a ball which landed on him after a pass went over Kauffman’s arms — and fell to the ground, he was up, smiling and running after a ballcarrier.
Said Nico Rivera, “Logan was fun to play with. He was funny.”
Though earning the school’s first win against Blackford was fun — as determined by unofficial chatter — it felt calming to be on a football field and come away with overwhelming joy.
Everyone involved with Twin Lakes expressed it: Coaches Kevin Anderson and Venters, and Green and Wisinski, who in other seasons compete in swimming and softball, respectively.
The feeling was because of the unbridled enthusiasm most of the special-needs athletes displayed.
“It was so nice to see when someone scored, or like anyone scored, really, everyone was clapping,” Wisinski said. “No one was like, ‘Oh, darn it.’ We were all happy for each other, on every team.
“It’s just fun to spend time with them.”