There could be many labels attached to 12-year-old Dillon Black, but Ryan Bohan prefers to call him a teammate.
Black, an autistic seventh grader at Miller Middle School, just wrapped up his first football season for the Bobcats.
"He's a teammate just like anyone else," Bohan said. "He took the time to come out to practices and he made a lot of improvement."
T-R PHOTO BY ANDREW POTTER
Dillon Black, front, poses with four of his fellow seventh grade football team members at Miller Middle School Wednesday. Teachers and coaches credited Black’s teammates for supporting the autistic student this season. Pictured in the back row are, from left, Ryan Bohan, Logan Mann, Kanaan Turnbull and Keygan Hansen.
Black has been talking about wanting to play seventh grade football since he was in the fourth grade, said his mother, Pam Black. When he finally got his jersey for the team, he was so excited he ran around with it on before putting his pads on.
"It's fun to see him smile," said John Augustine, a counselor at Miller and one of the football coaches.
The special needs student played defensive line on the C team at Miller. Augustine said the other players were very supportive of him and would help him get lined up for the plays.
"It's rewarding and neat to see the kids take a leadership role in helping somebody else who needs assistance," Augustine said. "The kids really do have good hearts."
Black said his favorite parts of football are tackling and making new friends.
Miller special education teacher Wendy Beckman said the treatment of Black on the team is the perfect example of the anti-bullying campaign in town in action. Instead of pointing out his differences, his teammates treated him like everyone else and embraced him as a teammate.
Beckman said she often heard his teammates in the hallways encouraging him and asking if he was ready for the game that night, which always made him smile.
"I think he had an absolute ball," Beckman said. "You could tell he was excited."
Beckman said she has seen Black open up this year and be more social and she thinks his experience on the football team is one reason why. The seventh grader is now gearing up for his next sport - wrestling.
"I think it's been good for him to get involved," Beckman said.