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Football team helps water boy have 'best day ever' (Video)

By chirst
Oct. 27, 2012 at 5:27 a.m.
Updated Oct. 28, 2012 at 5:28 a.m.

Zach Oracion, 14, walks proudly with his parents Joanne Oracion, left, and Paul Oracion, right, as his coach Jesse Garcia claps with the rest of the team during the parent night presentations at the Cade vs. Stroman Middle School football game Tuesday evening. Zach is mentally disabled but helps out on the team as a student team manager. He brings water to players, supports them and cheers them on at games. Tuesday he was able to run a play for the first time at the end of the second quarter.

His teammates blocked the defense as No. 9 made a break for the end zone, the football cradled carefully in his right arm.

As he ran in, he raised his left arm high in triumph.

Both teams went wild, jumping up and down and surrounding him in excitement.

Zach Oracion, eighth-grade water boy at Cade Middle School, scored the touchdown.

"I got a touchdown," Zach said, quivering with excitement. "It's good."

Zach, 14, is cognitively challenged, said his mom, Joann Oracion. His mental abilities are about that of a kindergartner.

But that didn't stop him from his dream of playing football Tuesday night during a halftime play against Stroman Middle School.

"He was the water boy last year and I use the term 'water boy' loosely because he never takes the water with him," his mom said, grinning. "He goes out to the huddles, but ... He is out there as encouragement to the team, always patting the guys on the back and high-fiving everybody. If someone gets hurt, he is there hovering over them."

Even though Zach is in the pre-athletic program at Cade, he has been watching his friends from the sidelines for years.

"Since sixth grade, Zach has been playing warrior ball with us, and it is nice to finally get him on the field with us, on the real field," said Parker Tadlock, quarterback at Cade.

His teammates, who encouraged the coach to let Zach play, were just as eager about the night as Zach.

"He is the first guy when we come off the field to tell us we are doing a good job," Parker said. "Even before the coaches are, he is out there first."

For Zach, the night was about playing football on the field with his friends for the first time.

"It's my favorite sport. I love it because you get to tackle," Zach said.

For his parents, the moment was unlike any other.

"Words can't describe that. It is a once in a lifetime - we are going to remember that forever," said his dad, Paul Oracion, eyes still on the field, proudly watching his son continue to jump up and down after the touchdown.

"It means he gets to hang out with his friends. He relates to these guys," his mom said. "This is important to him because it makes him normal. It makes him a part of what everybody else is."

Jesse Garcia, athletic coordinator at Cade, said he was hesitant to let Zach play in a live game because of potential injuries but was happy to provide a controlled environment for Zach's run.

"Zach has been part of their group, the pre-athletic program, since the sixth grade," Garcia said. "And it was good for both schools; even Stroman kids clapped for him. That is what it is all about."

His teammates, who always receive encouragement from Zach, were happy to return the favor as they peppered him with advice before the game.

Zach, however, never seemed concerned, as he fiddled with is mouthpiece and helmet, not-so-patiently waiting for his play.

Zach said he really felt like part of the team after his touchdown, but other players said he has always been part of the team.

Mason Buenger, defensive tackle, said Zach gives the team invaluable moral support.

"Sometimes he can just tell when you aren't feeling right, and he will come up to ask you what's wrong," Mason said. "It is good knowing that he can just tell ... he will listen to what you have to say."

Joann Oracion said she first suspected Zach was different when, at 12 months, he wasn't even crawling.

"We took him to an occupational therapist and his speech wasn't very good ... and then at 22 months he finally started walking, and that is pretty late," she said.

She said they tried to mainstream him in school once, but it was unsuccessful because of his mental level.

But his social abilities, his dad said, have never been lacking.

"The thing you learn from special needs is that a lot of the little things are special that we take for granted," Paul Oracion said. "He got a cake from a friend that found out we were going to do this, and so yesterday was the best day ever because he got cake. And now today is the best day ever. He is just kind of a perpetual best-day-ever kind of guy, and you get to celebrate that with him."

For now, with Zach's dreams of playing football fulfilled, he has other goals to work toward.

When he grows up, Zach said, he wants to be a police officer, a fireman or even a doctor.

"I'm just gonna try my best," Zach said.

And he did.

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