High school senior with Down Syndrome scores touchdown

SLIDELL, La. (WLOX) - Sometimes we take sports for granted. Plus, what actually makes athletics so great? Winning is part of it and gaining self-confidence has a lot to do with it as well.

But what makes a sport like the game of football so memorable are the people. Case in point, a young man by the name of Simon Roussel.

"He's always happy," Mandeville High School assistant principal Bruce Bundy said. "He seems to always have a smile on his face which certainly is contagious and puts smiles on other people's faces."

"He makes us laugh a lot," Simon's mom Barbara said. "Laughing is a great way to live. He's brought a lot of laughter into our house."

Simon is a senior at Mandeville High School, which is about 35 miles north of New Orleans. He was born with Down Syndrome, which is something more than 400,000 people in the United States were born with. Cognitive delays were expected with Simon, but his skills and strengths would never be in question.

"His speech is difficult to understand so he's got a lot of challenges," Barbara Roussel said. "But they're not challenges to him. He just figures out a way to get his point across."

"Simon has been involved with our football program for several years," Bundy said. "He goes to practices as a manager and he's on the sidelines."

"He's been with this group in high school for six years," Simon's dad Ellis said. "He's been there every day. They've opened their arms to him."

It's that stellar attendance at school and with the football team that led to the planning of an unforgettable event during the final game for Mandeville's freshmen football team.

"A couple weeks ago Simon's mom called me and asked about whether Simon could dress out one day for practice or something so she can come out and take pictures of him," Mandeville teacher and assistant football coach Byron Nihart said. "I told her that maybe we can do a little better than that so just hang on and let me see what we can do."

Nihart had to make a few calls. One went to Mandeville freshman head coach Paul Paille and another to the opposing coach that week, Slidell's Larry Favre. To no surprise, both conversations ended with green lights. Simon was going to suit up.

"We brought it onto [Simon] at the pregame meal that we have before the games," Nihart said. "I just told Simon to come over here and I asked him, 'Simon, do you want to dress out today?' 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!' So he was just beaming and excited."

The 21-year-old Simon Roussel wore No. 5 for the game between the Mandeville Skippers and the Slidell Tigers. He gave the team a pep talk before the game, which preceded him taking the opening kickoff for a touchdown in front of a crowd at L.V. McGinty Sr. Stadium.

"It's like he was supposed to do that," Nihart said. "It was a natural thing for him. He was born to be an athlete."

"This whole story is about Mandeville High School football people," Barbara Roussel said. "The students [and coaches] high five him. To me, the whole story is about these wonderful people and just how lucky Simon's been to be a part of their school."

Simon Roussel's touchdown didn't count toward the score of the game but the Skippers ended up winning 27-20 and finishing their season with a record of 6-1.

"If you think about Simon and you're having a bad day, it helps cheer you up," Nihart said. "You might think you have it worse than everybody but you have to think about other people.

"Simon is the epitome of the great kid. He's always cheerful, he's always happy and he's always smiling."

Simon Roussel is expected to graduate from Mandeville High School at the end of the 2013-14 school year.