NEW ALBANY, Ohio (WCMH) — Zayn Pierce’s 8th birthday is one he may never forget.
“He gets to experience sports in this setting and play football,” Zayn’s stepfather Adam Mott said while watching Zayn put on his black wide receiver gloves. “That’s something he may not be able to do down the road.”
Zayn has a kidney disease that prevents him from playing any kind of contact sport. He also has autism.
Adam and Zayn’s mother, Julie Stroud, got Zayn involved in New Albany Special Olympics and every Tuesday during the football regular season, he gets to practice with, and learn, from the New Albany players.
“There’s nothing better than the smiles we see,” said New Albany junior Tom Bohman. “It just helps to show us how meaningful what we do is to these athletes, and that just brings us closer together, helps us perform.”
The Eagles are a perfect 11-0 so far this season as they prepare for the second week of the OHSAA football playoffs.
“We go to games on Friday and watch them and [Zayn] just really enjoys working with them and getting those moments out here with them,” Mott said.
But not every season is this successful.
“It’s always been a nice reminder that if things don’t go our way on a Friday night, we’ve got something to look forward to on Tuesday,” said New Albany offensive coordinator Brian Finn. “And so sometimes we lean on them as much as they lean on us.”
All the preparation and work builds up to actual games, and for the final Tuesday game, the New Albany first responders pull up to the middle school football field, sirens and lights blaring, ready to bring the heat.
“We amp it up coming in,” said Officer Leland Kelly, the New Albany schools resource officer. “The Special Olympics coaches kind of help with it [saying things like], ‘Hey the first responders are coming! They want revenge from two years ago!'”
That revenge did not happen thanks to Zayn who, on the first snap, went the distance for a touchdown. After the game, Zayn and his fellow Special Olympians, along with several New Albany football players, came together to celebrate the win with victory jumping jacks.
“It’s just pure joy and excitement on his face,” Mott said. “It’s just so much fun getting to watch him smile and have fun and truly love and enjoy being out here in the sports setting.”
New Albany Special Olympics offers many sports throughout the year. Click here for more information.