DALLAS TWP. -- A slug of water, a smile, an encouraging word -- heck, even a forgotten helmet. Whatever the Dallas Mountaineers needed this past football season, John Emil was there to lend a hand.
The 18-year-old Dallas High School senior served as the team's equipment manager since June, a position that came about for him at the request of his peers.
A couple of players went to coach Bob Zaruta and said ‘Hey, we have this guy in our class with learning disabilities; he's really great, he's our friend. Could we have him on the team?' athletic director Nancy Roberts said.
These are 18-, 19-year-old-boys. They could have been bullying him. Instead, but they have never done that and there never was a chance they would; they really care about him, Roberts said.
When Emil was younger he was fraught with epileptic seizures, resulting in the inability of one side of his brain to function fully. His status as a special-needs student never slowed him down. He went on to do well academically and become a valuable member of his high school's football team.
The friendship bond between Emil and the senior football players is apparent when spending mere minutes among the group. As Emil proudly showed off the field house, where he did much of his work this season, the players chimed in with compliments.
I kept this area neat, he said as he passed the lockers. I took care of jerseys, got the equipment …
Made the best Gatorade in the state, senior player Buddy Shutlock said. Not even kidding. John, show them how you make it.
All the players were in agreement that Emil's Gatorade was amazing. But all kidding aside, there was so much more to the student's presence.
John's always got that positive attitude, Shutlock said. Whenever we're down, he brings us back up. He's our number one motivator.
He was there with whatever we needed, whether it was water, extra equipment or encouragement, senior Kris Roccograndi said.
Remember that one time somebody actually forgot their helmet? Emil replied, eliciting laughs from the team.
Though Emil speaks fondly of everything he's done over the season, there's one memory in particular that draws the biggest smile: the Lake-Lehman game on Nov. 3, the team's last home game. That was Senior Day, a time to honor the players who were taking the field for their last season, and Emil was right there with them, suited up, a number 70 emblazoned on his jersey.
It was truly a hallmark, Roberts said.
I was so, so proud of him, Emil's mom, Brenda, said.
Brenda and Emil's father, John Jr., were touched when they learned of their son's spot on the team and were there to support him every step of the way. They drove him to every practice (he never missed one) and patiently waited in the parking lot for his arrival home after each away game.
The thing is, most of these boys have been together in school since kindergarten, Brenda Emil said, so to see this, how close they are, is great.
The football season may have come to a close, but the camaraderie has not. As Shutlock and Emil walked to the field house from the school, they spoke of a recent bowling trip Emil took and the cookies he made that day in home economics.
Emil was visibly humbled by the way the other team members spoke of him, and his answer was filled with sincerity when the tables were turned and he was asked to name his favorite player.
All of them, he said with a smile. All of the seniors. These guys are great friends.