BILLINGSLEY – Seventh grader Dalton Vance was all smiles Tuesday night standing on the sidelines just moments after scoring a two-point conversion versus Prattville Christian on the first play of his middle school football career.
The smile was no real surprise.
Dalton, diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, had just realized a long-time dream---playing football for his beloved Bears. Dalton had been hoping to dress with the team all season. Finally approved to participate, assistant Bears coach J.T. Lawrence and the other coaches had an idea.
“We thought it would be a great experience for Dalton and for the rest of our kids if he could get into a game and score,” Lawrence said. There was one problem. Dalton did not need to have any physical contact.
Lawrence talked to Prattville Christian athletic director Sam Peak and asked if his school would allow Dalton to go into the game and score a two-point conversion if Billingsley scored a touchdown.
“That was an easy answer,” Peak said. “We coach our kids to be thankful for each opportunity to touch someone else’s life. This was an opportunity for us to do something good.”
Dalton’s mother Christie Vance said Dalton had been looking forward to the game for weeks. She stood nervously near the sideline and once he ran onto the field, she burst into tears.
When he scored, the first to congratulate him were the Prattville Christian players in the end zone with him.
“This means so much to him, and it means so much to me and his father and brother,” she told the Prattville Christian team after the game. “It was such a wonderful display of kindness, of sportsmanship. Your act of kindness gave Dalton and us a memory we will cherish for the rest of our lives.”
Dalton could hear the cheers from both sides after running through a gaping hole on the left side of the line following the Bears’ first touchdown in the 40-16 junior high win over the visiting Panthers.
Lawrence said the attitude of Peak and the Prattville Christian players and coaches set the stage for the entire night. “It reminded us all that the opportunity to play sports is something we should be thankful for. They helped all of us make a difference in one wonderful kid’s life and in the process we all are blessed, too.”
Billingsley Junior High head coach Josh Robinson said the game will be one few in attendance will ever forget.
“I truly believe that there are no words that can explain the happiness Dalton and his family experienced because of the entire event,” Robinson said. “Just as importantly, it taught our guys something about what it means to be able to be a positive influence on others.”
As the final seconds ticked off the clock Tuesday night, Dalton turned once again to the crowd and gave his trademark “thumbs up” signal. He then led the Bears across the field to shake hands with their opponents. One by one they congratulated each other.
It was good sportsmanship in its purest form.