DeWitt 6th grader with autism scores touchdown in youth football game
A football highlight that warmed hearts took place Sunday afternoon on a small youth football field in DeWitt.
Ben McNiff, a 6th grade student and member of the Tri County youth football team took the field for the first time in the fourth quarter in the team’s game against Freeman.
Ben, who has autism, has been playing football for the past two years. Earlier this week, teammates and parents went to Coach Brad Garrison with the idea that Ben, who participates in the same practices and conditioning as his teammates, should score his first touchdown.
“It’s a great opportunity that Ben might not get another time,” Garrison said. “So we thought what a great opportunity for him and the boys to see how great it can be to express your feelings in that way.”
Garrison talked to Freeman’s coaches, who were on board with the idea from the start.
With his teammates beside him every step of the way, and a host of fans from both sidelines cheering him on, Ben made his way down nearly the entire length of the field to the end zone where he celebrated with his teammates.
The special moment brought tears to Ben’s parent’s eyes.
“When you have a child with Autism, you don’t always know what’s going to happen or how life is going to be,” his mom, Brenda McNiff, said. “To see him score a touchdown is just very cool.”
Ben’s parents say not only do his teammates support his play on the field, but also help him tackle the challenges that come with living with autism.
“Probably the best part of it is that Ben’s class, ever since he was a kindergartener, they have celebrated Ben and his autism and every step of the way,” Ben’s father, Matt McNiff, said. “They have cheered him on in whatever they wanted to do.”
Garrison says the impact of the play goes far beyond the football field.
“What a great experience,” he said. “There were grown men in the stands wiping tears from their eyes, myself included. Just watching it, I was overcome with emotion, I had to run down to the field and smack Ben on the helmet and tell him great job.”