Special-needs athletes to get a ‘moment in the sun’
Seven years later, Trina Lengyel still remembers how amazed she was to watch her 12-year-old son catch a football and run it into the end zone at Trenton High School.
Scoring a touchdown normally wouldn’t surprise most parents, but Lengyel said her son, Tyler Futherby, now 19, has fragile X syndrome, an intellectual disability. She said she had no idea he even knew how to handle a football.
“After that Victory Day maneuver, his nickname is ‘Touchdown Tyler,’” said Lengyel.
Victory Day, an event for cognitively and physically impaired children, will hold its eighth annual meet at 10 a.m. Saturday in Trenton, and Tyler Furtherby will be among those taking the field. The meet is designed to give kids who don’t have the opportunity to play football or cheer the chance to have their “moment in the sun,” said Aaron Segedi, who started the event in 2010.
Each child is partnered with a Trenton High School football player or cheerleader who serves as their mentor for the day.
The athletes-for-a-day get a jersey or pom poms and “hear their name over the PA system, run through the tunnel and hear the national anthem” in the mock football game, said Segedi.
“There’s no disability there on Saturday,” said Segedi, a seventh-grade science teacher at Boyd W. Arthurs Middle School and the Trenton High varsity football coach. “We make an opportunity for these parents, who don’t usually have time off with these kids, to see them shine.”
About 60 participants from nine schools are expected at Saturday’s event.
“I hear stories from parents that they appreciate what we do, that we can touch other families through football, which I love because it teaches so many life lessons,” Segedi said. “We had a boy several years ago who drowned and was a Victory Day participant and I went to the showing… when I approached the casket and said my goodbyes to him, I saw he had his Victory Day jersey on. You never know what impact you can have on a person.”
Amy Gilstorf’s son Jake, 16, started attending Victory Day when he was 10. Jake was diagnosed with autism when he was 2.
The activities on the football field, Gilstorf said, let the children – and the families – claim a victory in another arena.
“Nobody leaves there without feeling great; you can feel the love,” Gilstorf said.
“It’s hard enough to be a kid, but to be a kid who’s not always accepted ... we’ve struggled as a family, but it’s the one day a year we feel normal.”
“For my husband, that’s his only son he gets to see on the field ...”
Gilstorf said Jake holds the record for the “slowest touchdown ever – he milks in the moment.”
She said Jake’s dad, Mark, buys him a new pair of cleats every year for the two-hour game.
“He’s usually just playing on his iPad and it can be embarrassing when we go out in public and he’s stared at because he’s loud or looks different,” said his 13-year-old sister, Ally. “But I’m really excited. ... I get to see my friends and cheer him on.”
The players will run practice drills, take their shots at the end zone and do a victory dance to music.
For Segedi, Victory Day signifies more than a once-a-year game. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 from sclerosing cholangitis, which destroyed his liver. His sister, Rhonda, donated part of her liver after the disease destroyed his, but in 2009, he was diagnosed with post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder.
He beat cancer again but in the fall of 2013, he was diagnosed with the disease for the third time. Now cancer-free, he said he was inspired to make his community a better place.
“What started out as an idea filled with uncertainty has snowballed into 40 schools and eight universities participating in their own Victory Day,” Segedi said.
Segedi said the event is for everyone, especially parents who don’t have much time off with their kids, and that it humbles young athletes who sometimes take playing sports for granted.
“You’d think the participants get a lot out of it, but our players and volunteers in other school districts benefit more,” he said. “They have the opportunity to do this every day and these kids don’t.”