“Look out for O’Shea on the field?” His Mother asks in the beginning of the season.
“What number is he?”
From the Dana Hills High School stadium there’s a peek at the ocean; but dry rot in the bleachers. An unusual request comes from a tall black lady in this white community.
Lacrosse isn’t a popular sport in Orange County. Football reigns in most High Schools. The stadium is never full for Lacrosse games.
The Mom who does stats, brings snacks on the bus and carries the first aid kit knows which players have asthma, are allergic to bees or peanut butter asks, “There’s no 28 on the roster?”
“He just got a jersey.” O’Shea’s mother answers.
“Okay. Fill out the forms - write your cell phone number, his height, grade…” The blonde lady pauses, “Permission forms seem like duplication - Coaches don’t see the papers the High School gets.”
O’Shea attends practices but his parents didn't buy him a stick or pads. Parents pay to have their children play Lacrosse in public schools. Even the bill for the electric lights is paid by fundraising. At games O’Shea stands leaning to one side wearing his jersey. O’Shea has Intellectual Disabilities and physical limb abnormalities. No one asks the name of his syndrome, the boys accept him as one of the team. His troubles are more visible than their own. All teenagers struggle to fit in. Perhaps in a wealthy beach community there is more pressure to assimilate.
When Junior Varsity lines up to watch the older boys play, a player shows him where to stand and what cheers to repeat. He learns to honor the opposing team by following the boys.
Gentlemen who choose a sport like LAX (as Lacrosse is nicknamed) may have increased physical drive. Players on the Dana team are rough as any boys with the hormones that drive them to poke each other. This sport allows gentlemen to hit one another with sticks. O’Shea participates in the pranks they play upon each other.
Riding home from a game, Coaches count the boys on the bus, as some impulsively might catch a ride with a buddy. The boys tell O’Shea to duck down. For a few minutes he plays along with the gag that he is forgotten somewhere in Murietta, much to the dismay of the Coach.
“Driver go back!” Coach shouts.
Then O’Shea pops up, “Hey Coooch!”
Everyone laughs that O’Shea was not left behind, and also at his progress to enjoy a joke.
“Oh sha oh oh shay,” they cheer.
Unexpected joy changed the boys.
In a home game a week ago, Coach planned to put O’Shea into the J. V. game. O’Shea doesn’t physically practice, as it is difficult for him to keep up. Coaches told the San Juan Hills team that we would let them score a few if they would allow O’Shea to play a few minutes and not be treated aggressively. Varsity boys loan him parts of their shoulder pads, arm guards and a stick. On the sidelines they pull the arm guards over his elbows. He is padded like the Michelin Man. The referees did not understand what was happening. San Juan’s team did not comprehend, only the Dana players and parents know about O’Shea’s disabilities. With gloves and a helmet and most of his body covered, he appears under the lights much like any other player, but his stance and his gate are stiff. As the whistle blows the defensive players circle him and lead him to the fifty yard line. He’s a bit rattled about where to go on the field. O’Shea never played contact or shot the ball. The boys shout instructions.
“We’ll run with you half way. Attacks will take you the rest.”
He says nothing.
“Two hands on your stick O’Shea!” Someone shouts.
The point player and bottom left and right surround him while the middies protect the ball at the fifty yard line bringing him closer to the crease.
O’Shea trembles as he jogs towards the ball on the ground. The boys toss and keep the ball ready away from opponents for O’Shea’s chance to pick up the ground ball. With assistance, he manages on the second try. The small audience cheers. The boys urge him.
The ball does not go in the net; however, all the players on the Dana team raise their arms to indicate a goal. They scream.
The referee whistles some violation. A player tries to explain that O’Shea can’t hold the stick properly with two hands, inside the glove is a hand that is formed like a mitten. The foul is called off.
Coach puts O’Shea in again in the fourth quarter but this time it isn’t as dramatic. Winning tonight’s game is sweet.
At the end of the game, the announcer calls the player of the game. A Freshman player runs to find a pen and neatly write “game ball” on a new white ball. O’Shea beams. He holds it above his head. The field lights shine a neon glow.
This has been an experience of a lifetime for the Dana Hills High Lacrosse Team of 2015. “Mainstreaming” theory believes a disabled person grows with acceptable forms of social interaction. This wonderful inclusion was perhaps one of the vital lessons that the Dana Hills High Gentlemen’s Lacrosse learned this year. Winning is the goal in sports. Growing into a good man is more important. Thank you O’Shea for sharing your heart.
Our last season game is Thursday, April 30th at Dana Hills High School Stadium 5:30 Varsity and 7:00 J.V. against El Toro.