Dare You Not to Cry: Autistic Football Player 'Big Mike' Runs for a 31-Yard Touchdown
The Rittman Indians have been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. A poem read in class by disgruntled Indians football player Nick Andre -- an ill-conceived English assignment -- lambasted the head coach, his teammates, and the team's losing record and sloppy play. When the 16-year-old Ohio player was suspended and kicked off the team for what the school principal called "hazing and harassment," the story went viral, even making the national news. After serving part of his 4-day suspension, Andre was allowed back on the team, but not before the head coach resigned in the wake of the controversy. Suffice it to say that it's been a bad year for the Indians with little hope of redeeming the season.
But with the help of coaches from the Waynedale Golden Bears and the officials, the Indians season ended on an remarkably positive note on Friday. The Daily Record's Aaron Dorksen reported:
Coaches on the Rittman and Waynedale sidelines were both thinking the same thing in the final minutes of what would turn out to be a 49-6 Golden Bears' win Friday: "Let's let 'Big Mike' score a touchdown."
The players and even game officials all got in on it, too.
So with less than a minute left in the season finale for both teams, the spotlight and the football were given to Rittman senior Michael Halliwell, a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder with autism who was seeing his first varsity action of the year on that drive.
For the first few plays, Halliwell had lined up at left tackle and the PA announcer congratulated him for a good block.
Indians coach Lane Knore used his final timeout to set up a handoff from quarterback Matt Evans to Halliwell, who ran it 31 yards with 22 seconds left for the most heart-warming touchdown anyone in Indians Stadium is likely to ever see. A Rittman assistant had run over to Waynedale's sideline just prior to the play to ask Bears coach Matt Zuercher and his staff if it would be OK, to which Zuercher responded, "We were already thinking the same thing."
Waynedale's coaches, including defensive coordinator, Todd Barkan, who is a special education teacher, had taken the players to a local children's home earlier in the week to perform community service. "We talked about giving back and helping others, but who knew we'd be able to do something like that in our game Friday? It was a special night for our team to be a part of, too," Coach Zuercher told the Daily Record.
Mike's father, Allen Halliwell, told the Daily Record that to "Big Mike" the touchdown was real. "He ran as fast as he ever has, all 6-5, 300 pounds of him clutching the ball with two hands until teammates mobbed him in the end zone." He said the Golden Bears congratulated him as well. "Mike is proud to be a Rittman Indian," Allen Halliwell said. "He knows he's part of something bigger than himself."
"I finally got to do something I've always dreamed of since I was a little boy -- make a touchdown," Mike said.
Read the whole story here.