Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blind middle schooler plays on football team

From The Emporia Gazette in Kansas:

Having been completely blind since the age of 6, Charlie Wilks doesn’t have much daylight at his disposal when he steps on the football field for Emporia Middle School’s (EMS) eighth-grade team.

Good thing, then, that he has the tenacious mentality of a nose guard to scare the living daylights out of the guys on the other side of the ball.

Once the ball’s snapped, Charlie’s off on his mission to blast through the offensive line, hit the ballcarrier and bring him down.

“It’s like as soon as I hear ‘Hut,’ I’m like, ‘Waaaaaaaahhhh!’” Charlie said. “And I just take out whoever gets in my way.”

Charlie’s passion for football and on-field tenacity are things he came by before surgery to remove a brain tumor, discovered when he was 5, took his sight away. He was inspired to play by his grandfather, Al Reynolds, who played offensive guard for the Kansas City Chiefs during the 1960s.

“I was naturally interested in it when I was a kid,” Charlie said, “because I’d sit down on the couch and be watching TV, and all of a sudden I see these guys going, ‘Waaaaaaahhh — I’m gonna kill you!’ You see these guys hitting each other, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I wanna do that.’”

When Charlie joined EMS’ seventh-grade team last year, head coach Beau Welch knew he would learn as much about adapting a blind person to football as Charlie would learn about football itself.

Welch, now an an assistant on the eighth-grade team to head coach Mike Schoenberger, said getting Charlie a position on the field was a matter of finding a spot for him to be safe and comfortable. Nose guard turned out to be a good fit.

“He just loves attacking,” Welch said. “In fact, last year — in a game he never did, but in practice — he made about three or four tackles where he busted through the line, and they went up the middle, and he hit the running back.