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Huskies, Bengals fulfill dream of wheelchair-bound Hopper student

October 27, 2016

Hopper and Salyards middle school eighth-grade football players surround eighth-grade student Neil Sawh after he scored a third-quarter touchdown in the eighth-grade A team game on Oct. 25. Sawh battles a rare genetic disorder, Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Hopper and Salyards middle school eighth-grade football players surround eighth-grade student Neil Sawh after he scored a third-quarter touchdown in the eighth-grade A team game on Oct. 25. Sawh battles a rare genetic disorder, Duchenne muscular dystrophy. 

Oct. 27, 2016—Hopper Middle School eighth-grade student Neil Sawh can’t get enough of football. The manager for the Huskies’ eighth-grade A and B teams is the program’s biggest supporter. His rare genetic disorder, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, is the only thing keeping him off the field.

On Oct. 25, the Hopper and Salyards eighth-grade A teams arranged for a way to put him on it.

Hopper teammates celebrate with eighth-grade student Neil Sawh after he crosses the goal line during the Huskies’ A team’s game against Salyards on Oct. 25.
Hopper teammates celebrate with eighth-grade student Neil Sawh after he crosses the goal line during the Huskies’ A team’s game against Salyards on Oct. 25.

Trailing 16-6 early in the third quarter of their home finale, Huskies’ Head Coach Chris Ford called time out, and substituted in the wheelchair-bound Sawh at running back. Hopper’s quarterback took the snap from shotgun and handed the ball to Sawh, who took a sweep around right end and dashed 50 yards to the end zone.

“He reached out to the head coach earlier in the season and said he wanted to be in a game,” said Neil’s father, Navin. “Coach Ford made it happen. Neil was really excited the night before and barely got enough sleep. Kids with that disability need a lot of rest because it takes so much for them to even get up in morning. He couldn’t stop talking about it.”

Chris Ford, Hopper eighth-grade football coach, talks with team manager Neil Sawh before the Huskies’ game against Salyards on Oct. 25.
Chris Ford, Hopper eighth-grade football coach, talks with team manager Neil Sawh before the Huskies’ game against Salyards on Oct. 25. 

Ford had coordinated the play prior to the game with Salyards’ head coach, Brannon Baumboree.

“We both discussed it, and we decided to count the points no matter what,” Ford said. “We arranged it to where Neil would wheel toward the end zone with the scoreboard so he could see the points being added.”

As the scoreboard flickered to 16-12, all the Huskies and Bengals player surrounded Sawh to congratulate him on his achievement.

Hopper eighth-grade student Neil Sawh takes a handoff from his quarterback before scoring a 50-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Huskies’ eighth grade A game against Salyards on Oct. 25.
Hopper eighth-grade student Neil Sawh takes a handoff from his quarterback before scoring a 50-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Huskies’ eighth grade A game against Salyards on Oct. 25. 

“He was all smiles. Total smiles,” said Wendi Witthaus, Hopper principal and Salyards parent. “I’m blessed that I’m a part of both communities—one recognizing this young man, and the other supporting that recognition.”

Sawh’s father said he felt an incredible sense of pride after the touchdown was scored.

“I try to teach him that if you want something, you go out and get it yourself. You want to make it easy for the decision makers to say yes to you,” Navin said. “I know he’s done a lot to help out with the team, and he made it easy for the coaches to say yes. My hat’s off to the coaches and the entire Hopper faculty, who have always been so wonderful to include him in everything.

Hopper and Salyards football players pursue student Neil Sawh as he surges toward the end zone in the Huskies’ and Bengals’ game on Oct. 25.
Hopper and Salyards football players pursue student Neil Sawh as he surges toward the end zone in the Huskies’ and Bengals’ game on Oct. 25. 

“Two teams united to give my son a boost with what he has to deal with on a daily basis. The emotions were overwhelming.”

Although Ford’s Huskies ended up losing the game to Salyards, the veteran coach said no victory could compare to sharing the moment with Sawh.

“This is my 20th year coaching, and this was one of my more enjoyable moments—and we didn’t even win,” Ford said. “Sometimes it’s not about winning; it’s about making kids’ dreams come true.” 

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