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Everyone’s A Winner: A Middle School Football Game

By Paul Schienberg, PhD

Thousands of middle school football games get played across the country every weekend. Coaches and players spend hours trying to figure out ways to beat their opponents. Teams sometimes run up winning scores so that contracts are renewed, scholarships are offered, and players will be rewarded with gifts of all kinds.

Something happened in a football game a couple of weeks ago that reminds us of more important life-gains to be acquired by participating in sports. One such incident occurred in a small town outside of New York City. Somers Middle School was playing John Jay Middle School.

The Somers coach, Bud Von Heyn, asked Jeff Tepper, the coach of John Jay for a favor. After Jeff agreed, Bud gathered his players and told them to run the E.J. Shuffle play. Jeff passed the instructions onto his team.

The E.J. Shuffle would begin on the John Jay 35- yard line. E.J. Greczylo, a 15 year-old eighth grader, would be part of this one play and no other – no other for his entire football career. He was instructed by Coach Bud where to position himself in the backfield and to follow the fullback where ever he goes.

The players on both sides of the line of scrimmage took their positions; the ball was snapped to the quarterback, who then gave it to E.J. – a strong looking young boy with an awkward style of running. He held the ball beside his stomach, ran toward the sideline and then toward the goal line.

Everyone in the crowd, and players from both the John Jay and Somers bench cheered for E.J. The opposition players made like they were trying to tackle him, but either tripped or lunged ineffectively. Everyone was into the act. The attempt was to make one kid feel good – E.J. who suffered from Down syndrome. You see football was E.J.’s dream and he was taught by his parents to follow his dreams. At Somers, children who are disadvantaged are treated like the other children. So, when E.J.’s teacher let the coach know of his dream – to play football, started to practice with the team.

Obviously, there are some ethical questions raised. One is that E.J. wasn’t really treated like the other players on the team. Ok, that one is obvious. Sometimes we are faced with two ethical dilemmas simultaneously. I believe they made the right choice. E.J. was not deluded about his abilities. He didn’t expect a football scholarship to arrive from the University of Miami. He got what was going on. But, it was a thrill non-the-less. Everyone got taught a great lesson and did something that will make them feel like winners the rest of their lives. There was never a better touchdown scored. It was the first time in football history that both teams won.