Mississippi football teams come together to help special needs player score first touchdown
CALEDONIA, Miss. (WCBI) - Team sports for most children is an opportunity to learn about working together, supporting one another, and taking the wins and the losses.
But for two very young teams - one from Webster County and the other from Caledonia - the lesson learned during one recent game is that sometimes being kind is the best accomplishment of all.
“Scoring your first touchdown is a special moment. But it’s usually not something both teams celebrate… let alone draw up a play for,” said Jason Counts, Caledonia Coach.
“I just told my quarterback and center, ‘Hey, y’all fumble the ball and he’s going to pick it up and he’s going to take it to the house,’” said James Davidson, Webster County Coach.
“I brought him up to the line and I said ‘Junior, if you see the ball, get the ball,’” said Trenton Brock, Caledonia player. “We didn’t care about the score, the score didn’t have anything to do with it right now. All that mattered was him getting the touchdown.”
“I like my touchdown!” said Robert “Junior” Watkins.” “He likes his touchdown,” said Lascandra Watkins, Junior’s mom. ”It makes me happy!” said Junior. ”He said it makes him happy,” said Lascandra.
Meet Robert Watkins Jr., a 13-year-old from Maben who everyone knows as simply, “Junior.”
“Man, Junior’s like a sparkplug, man. I mean. he comes out here, you having a down day, man that kid just brightens you up. He will brighten your day up,” said Coach Davidson.
“Junior is developmentally delayed--has partial deafness and asthma--and also a football player for the Webster County Bulldogs,” said Lascandra. “He’s just trying to do what the other kids do.”
Junior’s mother Lascandra says she was nervous at first when Junior told her he wanted to strap on a helmet and pads and join his younger brother Zalan on Coach James Davidson’s new 11-12 peewee football team.
“I filled out the form for Zalan, I wasn’t too sure about Junior but he wanted to play so I wasn’t going to take that away from him. Coach Davidson had some of the same concerns,” said Lascandra.
“I don’t want anything to happen to him. So I was kind of telling his mother that and she was like, ‘Coach, I just want him to be normal… him being out here with the boys would be good for him,’” said Coach Davidson.
It didn’t take long for Junior to become part of the team. While he might not participate in every drill, Coach Davidson says he’s never afraid to lay a hit or dive into the middle of a pile.
“He usually wants to rush the quarterback. Out here, as you can see, that’s what he wants to do, rush the quarterback.”
As the season got underway, Lascandra and Coach Davidson wanted to find a way to get Junior involved on game days.
During weeks 2 and 3, both opposing head coaches were more than happy to let Junior run around on the field with their teams after the games were over. But Coach Jason Counts of Caledonia had other ideas.
The Cavaliers were up 22-0 on the Bulldogs when Coach Davidson approached Coach Counts about Junior.
“And I said, ‘Coach,’ I said ‘I just don’t think I can agree to that.’ And he just kind of looked at me and I said, ‘It doesn’t count if it’s after the game. It only counts if it’s in the game and it goes on that scoreboard.’ So I told him I said ‘With a couple of minutes left, that’s when we’re gonna do it. That’s when we’ll let him score his touchdown,’” said Coach Counts.
And that’s exactly what Junior did… taking off for a 56-yard scoop and score to give Webster County their first and only points of the game.
“I was on the sideline, actually. Cheering my baby on. Because I’m his number one fan. If he doesn’t hear nobody else, he’s going to hear his momma. Go Junior go!,” said Lascandra.
But she was certainly not the only one cheering.
“I just wanted to run up there and hug him and grab him because it felt like they won the game and to him, he did. It was just a great feeling all the way around,” said Coach Counts.
After battling against each other for about 59 minutes… players and coaches for Caledonia and Webster County were all on one team as they celebrated with Junior in that endzone.
“It felt like we won the Super Bowl. I was excited. We were all jumping around. We were all huddling around him, smacking him on the pads,” said Landon Merchant, Caledonia player.
“Oh man, it was awesome. It was awesome,” said Lascandra. “And then they even gave him the game ball. Oh my, he loved that ball.”
While it was only Week 4 for both teams, it was the crowning moment of their seasons.
“Whatever happens the rest of the season, whether we win the championship or not, it does not matter. In my opinion, the championship was won last Saturday,” said Coach Counts.
For Coach Davidson, it was a reminder of the power that a few white lines on a green field have.
“For these two/three hours that we’re all together, for him to be one of us, to be able to run, play, jump, catch… that’s special, man,” said Coach Davidson.
Lascandra’s hope was that football could give her son a few moments to experience an ordinary childhood. Instead, Junior got to show everyone that he is extraordinary.
Coach Davidson says that since that game against Caledonia, Junior is constantly asking him when he’ll get the ball just like any other player.
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