It isn’t often coaches, players and fans leave a football game not remembering the score or even which team won or lost, but that was the case on Tuesday afternoon at Chagrin Falls.
What those in attendance won’t ever forget was the touchdown Nathan Fellinger scored on his first career carry.
Fellinger, a seventh grader at Kirtland, suffers from severe ADHD and a cognitive developmental delay, and had never suited up for a game before. Instead, he carried water bottles and did whatever he could for the past few seasons just to be a part of the team.
“He’s been with me for the last few years,” said Kirtland seventh grade coach Ray Sullivan. “I wanted to get him one play last year when I was coaching the ‘A’ team, but youth regulations were a little bit tougher.”
The opportunity to get Fellinger into a game presented itself last week when Sullivan talked with Kirtland athletic director Matt Paul, who communicated Sullivan’s wishes to Chagrin Falls AD Charlie Barch.
“We’ve been practicing the last two weeks and with the help of Matt and Charlie Barch it got over the goal line,” Sullivan said.
Barch passed along Sullivan’s request to Todd Tombs, the middle school athletic director and seventh grade coach at Chagrin Falls. Tombs took the request to his team and he wasn’t disappointed with the Tigers’ response.
“I knew right away what I wanted to do but I asked the boys after practice and they came up on their own that they should let him score,” Tombs said. “They made the decision as a team. It was the right thing to do.”
Sullivan’s game plan worked to perfection.
He designed a play, a takeoff on the old Student Body Right made famous by former Southern Cal coach John McKay in the 1960s, that would lead Fellinger into the end zone.
Kirtland’s guard and tackle pulled to the right, providing a swarm of Hornets for Fellinger to follow.
“It was huge,” Sullivan said. “The kids couldn’t wait and even in Chagrin Falls they were all for it. As a parent, I’ve seen this kid on the field practicing and hanging out. He’s a great kid.”
The Chagrin Falls players were just as excited as their friendly rivals over the touchdown, especially after last week’s video assembly with Life Without Limbs founder Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs.
Vujicic left the Tigers with a message they took to heart.
“He talked about how kids find value in their worth and the right ways to treat people,” Tombs said. “It was a neat thing; a unique experience. After the assembly I got the email from coach Sullivan telling me about this situation.”
No stranger to the viral videos of other special needs kids accomplishing great things, Tombs was eager to be a part of Fellinger’s touchdown run.
“We learn from the example of other people,” he said. “I think we’ve gone a long way in learning to respect others but we learn more and more about how to respect our fellow athlete and our fellow man.”