Our son is 20 years old, was born and raised in Urbandale, Iowa, and attended Urbandale High School. His name is Tyler. When he was 4 years old, the nation's best neurologists told us he would never walk or talk. Today, he is a healthy, vibrant, wonderful young man who has autism and an intellectual disability.
His fine motor skills never developed enough for him to participate in sports in high school, but his love for sports, especially baseball, is deep and passionate. His one and only desire was to be part of a baseball team of his peers, just like the other kids whom he felt were so lucky to have that experience. All parents want the best for their children, so we tried to fill that void by getting him involved in the Best Buddies program and Special Olympics. He loves those programs, but the void and the desire still existed. He continued to dream about being part of a real team.
That dream has been realized, in a most remarkable way, and he will never be the same person again.
Three years ago at the state high school baseball tournament in Des Moines, were we attended every game for every class, a special bond was spontaneously formed between the Newman Catholic Knights and Tyler. Tyler always sits in the front row, right next to the dugout. He always talks to the players in that dugout as they are warming up and in the on-deck circle. He would pepper the Newman players with questions about their school, their homes, their girlfriends, and ask if they had ever been to Northwestern Steakhouse. To Tyler's great delight, the Newman players responded to him in a very kind and heartwarming fashion. They knew he was different somehow, but every player could sense his excitement and love of the game and his interest in them as players and people. And without realizing it, they were showing their love and acceptance of him.
Nobody told them to; nobody said it was the good or right thing to do. They just accepted him and included him. Before long, they were bringing him Newman baseball shirts to wear, the Newman coaches were bantering with him, and he was becoming a member of their team. The following baseball seasons, Tyler insisted I take him to their home baseball games in Mason City, and as often as we could, we drove from Des Moines to Mason City and back home again to watch them play. He always brings a lawn chair and carefully positions it next to the Newman dugout at the Knights' home field. He says it makes him feel he is in the dugout with them.
This year at the state tournament, the Newman baseball team totally overwhelmed Tyler with kindness. They brought him a game hat, a game jersey, and instantly after winning the state championship, brought him out on the field to join them in celebrating their accomplishment. The players handed him the trophy, and he was the first to hold it. After the game, they brought him into their locker room and presented him with an actual base from Principal Park which was signed by all of the players and coaches. They insisted that Tyler sign the base, too.
That base now rests at the side of Tyler's bed where he falls asleep each night with his hand on it, and wakes up each morning taking a long look at it and remembers that special day.
The Newman Catholic baseball team, coaches, parents and staff have enriched Tyler's life and made his dreams come true. How many of us can honestly say we have had that kind of impact on someone's life? They have enriched my entire family's life, as well. To think that these high school players in the midst of winning the state championship would pause to do something so special for someone less fortunate is selfless and simply incredible.
We wanted to share all of this as a way of saying "thank you" to the Mason City community, the entire North Iowa community, and to Newman Catholic High School for creating the type of environment that produces such a caring, accepting and loving quality of character these young men possess and showered on our son. We are overwhelmed and grateful that we got to experience such kindness and generosity.
It is unique, uncommon and wonderful.