Eighth-grader Jack McGraw has dreamed of scoring a touchdown for his football team at Haines Middle School in St. Charles. His was a dream, however, that seemed unattainable.
But according to school officials, McGraw refused to let his dream die, despite his reliance on a wheelchair to get around. Thanks to his coaches, his teammates and the coaches and members of the opposing team — Batavia’s Rotolo Middle School — Jack scored the first touchdown of his life last week during the St. Charles/Haines Middle School Football Invitational Tournament.
The St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 Board of Education on Tuesday recognized Jack, his coaches and teammates at Haines, and the Rotolo Middle School football team and coaches for the display of character, compassion that came together to fulfill a dream, against the odds.
“Tonight’s a special occasion when sometimes a sport and what we do in school sometimes supersedes everything else,” said Dr. Donald Schlomann, District 303’s superintendent, speaking to the board and a room filled with students wearing football jerseys. “Tonight we have a chance to honor some students and adults that had a special meaning on an individual’s life, and quite frankly had an impact on their own lives as well.”
It was an amazing day, by all accounts, and reflects not only on Jack’s resilience, but also the character of the coaches and players on two middle school football teams.
Jack has cerebral palsy, which according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “is a group of disorders that can involve brain and nervous system functions, such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking.”
Schlomann said that during the final minutes of the game, the Rotolo team, on fourth down, “took a knee,” turning over possession of the ball to Haines.
“Haines was able to put in an individual who is very special to the students here today, and that’s Jack McGraw, and Jack is here tonight,” Schlomann said as the room erupted in applause. “They did something that was very special for him. …”
It came down to the snap, then a handoff by the quarterback to Jack, who cradled the football in his hand and steered his wheelchair into the end zone.
It was, Schlomann said, “a bench-clearer.”
If you watch the video, you can see clearly that players from both teams joined the fans in cheering Jack on to his touchdown.
Schlomann extended the district’s thanks to the Haines coaches and football players, to the Rotolo Middle School team and coaches, and to District 303 employee Jerry O’Brien, also the parent of a Rotolo student, for filming the touchdown.
“Usually, as in this case, there’s not a dry eye in the house,” Schlomann said as he thanked everyone involved. Jack’s touchdown was perhaps more personally felt by Schlomann, who explained that he grew up with a brother and a sister who each had cerebral palsy.
“This was a special thing for me as well,” he acknowledged.
“I’m not sure who’s more fortunate — is Jack more fortunate? Or are the team members who know Jack that are more fortunate?” Schlomann asked. “It seems that maybe it’s the team members who know Jack.”
Schlomann added his thanks to Rotolo coaches David Jonathan, Steve Jordan and Albert Dyer, and to Haines coaches Sean Masoncup, Jim McCarron and Jeff Otterby.
“I can’t tell you enough, again, how much this means to the board of education, to myself and to the community,” Schlomann said. “This was a community event. Jack, we’re extremely proud of you. We are just grateful you are part of our team, and we’re excited to have you be here.”
District 303 Board President Steven Spurling, a grin on his face, said he was jealous of McGraw. “He has one more touchdown than I ever had,” Spurling said to laughter from the crowd and an enthusiastic response from McGraw.
“Congratulations Jack,” said board member Jim Gaffney. “Thank you, and to all the young men that represent our school, it’s a great honor that you did for this young man — thank you all.”
Perhaps Schlomann summed it up best when he made a final remark to the Haines students:
“Wins and losses are great, but it’s experiences like this that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”