Moment to remember: Wheelchair bound 10-year-old scores touchdown

6 Sep
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(Stories like this make my job one of the best you could ask for. I had the privilege of talking to this awesome family, and sharing this inspiring story.)

Ask Erin Jones about her 10-year-old son, Braden, who is confined to a wheelchair, and she’ll tell you about a simple plan for his childhood.

“We are always going to make sure we find a way to not limit him at all,” she said. “We want to make sure he has the same opportunities as any other child.”

Erin and her husband, Mike, want to make Braden’s life normal, despite the challenge of living with hypophosphatemic rickets, a disease that makes bones weak and often causes multiple breaks.

Jones said that her son’s attitude is always inspiring.

“He has the best heart, the most open mind, the best positive attitude,” she said. “Very seldom does he have an ‘I can’t’ attitude.”

That spirit was on full display Friday night when Braden did something he’d never dreamed possible by scoring a touchdown for a high school football team, in his wheelchair.

In so doing, Braden and Victory Baptist School in Millbrook, Ala. created a moment to remember for the boy and the many fans in the stands.

(Watch the video here of Braden scoring the touchdown.)

Victory football coach Jim Hardy came up with the idea, after he met Braden as part of his Outdoor Friends Forever organization, which is committed to giving children with special needs different opportunities to hunt, fish and do other outdoor activities. Many of his football players volunteer with the organization and had become friends with Braden, who is from Talladega.

He knew Braden was a football fan, so it seemed natural to get him involved with the team.

Victory Christian plays 6-on-6 football in the Alabama Christian Education Association. The school won the state ACEA championship in 2013 and 2014.

Hardy invited Braden to participate in Friday night’s game against Brooklane Baptist Academy from Hueytown, but didn’t tell him about the plan to get him on the field until the game was underway.

He was given a jersey, spoke to the team during pre-game meetings, wheeled onto the field with the team and was asked by Hardy if he wanted to help coach the team.

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“He was so excited on the sidelines that I asked what play he might want to call. He was nervous and wasn’t sure,” he said. “Then, a few minutes later I asked how cool would it be to go on the field? He said he’d want to, but that he didn’t want anyone to tackle him.”

“I got some of the seniors to talk to him, and we reassured him that he would be fine,” Hardy said.

Players and coaches from Brooklane were also in on the “secret” and helped make the moment special by missing tackles and then celebrating in the end zone afterwards.

“We are grateful to the coaches, players and cheerleaders at Brooklane, the fans on both sides and everyone that made the night so special,” Hardy said.

After the game, Hardy said that many players, family members and fans went to a dinner party to celebrate Braden. When he tried to serve food to the guests, Braden stepped in and helped serve alongside him.

“It just took it to a whole other level,” he said. “You’ve got high school players learning what it means to care about others.”

Jones said that the night, and the way Braden was treated, is something she’ll always remember.

“Both teams made it special. They were falling down, getting tackled, and they all celebrated with him in the end zone. To witness his face right then and see the acceptance he felt, was just wonderful,” she said.

“Some people talk to him differently, sometimes he is treated like he’s not normal, but all those players cut up with him, gave him high-fives, treated him like the regular kid he is,” she said. “All of these experiences have helped him come out of his shell. Now he knows he can do so many things.”

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