Sophomore with disability still plays football for Kirkwood

September 21, 2018

KIRKWOOD, Mo. (AP) — The only thing that would have made Mac Reed’s football debut better was if he’d been hit.

A sophomore holder on the Kirkwood High junior varsity football team, Reed handled both extra point snaps with ease as junior kicker David Bregande knocked the ball through the uprights Sept. 11 a 43-2 win over Marquette at Kirkwood.

After each kick, sophomore quarterback Kannon Nesslage rolled Reed’s wheelchair to him. Reed used his arms, hopped into his chair and returned to the sideline to the delight of the Pioneers and their fans.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Reed was born with spina bifida, a condition that occurs when the backbone does not develop properly in the womb. The result is a fluid filled sack on the newborn’s back at birth. The severity of the condition varies, but it often leaves the child without the use of their legs.

Reed, 15, hasn’t let his lack of useful legs slow him down or hold him back from doing what he wants to do.

Like play football.

You know what happens when you play football?

You get hit.

A lot.

Reed was ready for it.

“I love contact sports. A lot of people see the wheelchair and think, ‘He’s fragile, he can’t be hit,’” Reed said. “I don’t care. I have the pads on.”

In an act of sportsmanship, Marquette was asked and agreed to hold back its defense on extra points or field goals in the second half because Kirkwood wanted to get Reed in the game. Reed appreciated the gesture, but he’s not looking for special treatment. He disdains it actually.

The 5-foot-10 and 198-pound Reed went through offseason workouts just like the rest of his teammates. While they were running the length of the football field in the June heat, he was next to them, rolling 100 yards down and back. When the other Pioneers were in the weight room, Reed was there, too. If the exercise that day involved legs, Reed would find a different way to get his workout in.

“When we did weight training, we did dead lifts. I personally can’t dead lift,” Reed said. “I did pull ups on the bars. I tried to find an alternate way to do something.”

A wheelchair basketball player for the Jr. Rolling Rams the last seven years, Reed was inspired to try football after seeing Danny Lilya do something similar for Moose Lake/Willow River High School in Moose Lake, Minnesota. A paraplegic, Lilya is the holder for his team’s place kicks, too. Reed went to Kirkwood football coach Farrell Shelton and asked if this was something they could try. Shelton was all in.

“I took it to coach and he was really supportive of it,” Reed said.

There were some looks and questions the first day Reed rolled into preseason workouts. But those soon disappeared in the heat, sweat and pain of summer practice. Watching Reed push through the killer conditioning drills was inspiring.

“There’s a lot of kids that start the summer out and end up quitting,” junior receiver and defensive back Connor Gibson said. “Mac’s a good example for them to realize they can do it. If Mac can do it they can do it.”

Overcoming obstacles has been a regular part of Reed’s life since birth. Shortly after he was born at one hospital, he and his family were whisked away to another to address the fluid sac that was on his back.

“I have scars on my back from my surgery,” Reed said.

Reed’s parents, Tom and Tamara, instilled in him a resolve to be independent. Reed refuses to let his disability limit him.

“I know growing up with a disability I’m going to have to work 10 times harder than a lot of other people will have to,” Reed said. “If I try to work to be independent now, it’ll help me in the long run.”

Reed’s work was rewarded Sept. 11. When he was informed he’d be taking snaps that night, Reed had to catch his breath. He’d been looking forward to it since the first day he pulled on a helmet and pads. And now it was here.

He got in a few practice snaps during halftime to ease his galloping heart.

“We went out to practice and he was kind of shaky and nervous,” Bregande said. “We had a little talk. He was more anxious to get out there than nerves. When we got out there, he did his thing. It was a perfect hold and we got it done. It was great.”

Reed was so thrilled after the game he couldn’t calm down. All the summer conditioning, all the practice and here he was playing and contributing to his high school football team.

For someone who has spent much of his life feeling different, it was refreshing to just be part of the team.

“They treat me like a teammate and a friend,” Reed said. “They put the disability aside and see me as a human being rather than a disabled child.”


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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