SWANSEA - While the Diman Bengals and the Case High School Cardinals battled it out on the football gridiron Friday night
The Spectator - 9/20/2017
SWANSEA - While the Diman Bengals and the Case High School Cardinals battled it out on the football gridiron Friday night, the most excited participant wasn't a running back, a linebacker, a quarterback, or even a coach. In fact, it was Case waterboy Seth Thomas.
Thomas, a Case student who has been diagnosed with both Fragile X syndrome and Autism, donned jersey number 99 as he carried out his official game duties.
Luckily for Case, the excitement on the field matched the enthusiasm of their No. 1 fan whose frequent cheers alternated between "Case" and "awesome." He had some initial anxiety about attending the game but he quickly settled in as a student who enjoyed Case's success just like every other student in the packed home stands.
The players put in hours of work and have much to accomplish before they ever take the field for a varsity contest and the same was true for Seth. He may not have spent hours in the weight room or running sprints but he had his own challenges to overcome before his appearance and participation on the sidelines. These challenges were made considerably more manageable by the welcome and numerous high fives he received from the team and by being presented with a game jersey by none other than head coach Anthony Palladino. For Seth, the thrill of meeting with Palladino equaled the enjoyment of his game involvement.
Palladino said: "It is what athletics are all about. Any time we can do something to make a kid's day, it is a pleasure. It was awesome to see him wear the jersey in school and having the players without being directed to go up to him during the day and take pictures with him. It made me very proud and I felt lucky to be their head coach."
Also providing considerable comfort to Thomas was his evening's constant companion and shadow, Heather St. Yves. When not patrolling the sidelines with Seth, St. Yves doubles as his teacher in Case's ARCH program. "Over the past year, Seth has grown a lot socially," she said. "He was excited to be part of Case football and I'm proud of how far he has come. It's amazing to have been part of it."
Seth may not understand the intricacies of the formations and other complexities of the sport, but it was refreshing to those around him to hear nothing but positive statements about the success of his fellow students while not hearing even a hint of negativity about the referees, weather or any mistakes. If there was an award for who maintained the longest continuous smile, Thomas would have been the hands-down winner.
He may not have scored a touchdown or made a tackle but nevertheless there was no shortage of people wanting to interact with him and/or have their picture taken with him. Star running back Chris Costa stopped by to get water from him after the second quarter while Lauren Mello and Rebecca Proulx took pictures with him right before the start of the second half. Mello and Proulx are members of the cheerleading squad but more importantly they are members of the Best Buddies program. The Best Buddies Program is set up so students with different strengths (inside and outside the ARCH Program) can spend time together during the school day to learn from each other while maximizing academic and social opportunities for all students involved.
Proulx said: "I think Seth is such an amazing kid with an awesome personality. He always comes to school with a positive attitude and a smile on his face. I am extremely happy to be part of the Best Buddies program and meet amazing people like Seth."
Mello added: "The Best Buddies program is one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I love it and I wish I had done it last year."
The true wonder of the experience is how Thomas was made not just to feel included but also completely embraced by his peers.
Simply stated, football is a better game to watch when Thomas is nearby and all his supporters hope to see him on the field again in the near future. It was great for everyone from family, students, coaches and administrators to come together for this experience but it was far from a one-time event. It is merely reflective of all those associated with Case High School realizing that all students can flourish in an environment where they can take chances while being supported by their community.