Sports, Flint Academy Style

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The homecoming game was our last football game of the season (we're jumping head-first into basketball season now, the varsity, JV, and girls teams have already had their first games!) and it was a great inaugural season. We won TWO football games this year, which is a big deal if you remember our first few years of basketball. Starting a new sports program is a sloooow process no matter where you are...and doing it the Flint way adds a few dozen extra layers of complicated.

For the past few weeks I keep seeing a video pop up on my Facebook feed about a high school student with autism who scores a touchdown at a football game. The coaches and players from both teams cooperate to give him the ball and get him down to the end zone, and everyone lauds the character and sportsmanship the teams displayed in including him. It's a heartwarming moment to watch, seeing everyone pull together like that. But every time I see it, I can't help but think of our team...where many of the players share that diagnosis of autism, where every single player lives with disorders, disadvantages, and disabilities that qualify them for special services. 

Our idea of full inclusion looks very different than the mainstream. And it is messy, you guys. It is chaotic and annoying and a great big headache. When nearly every practice is disrupted by anxiety and OCD and attachment disorders and ADD and fights caused by misunderstood social cues, when dyslexia makes studying the playbook nearly impossible, when no one can remember the plays or the calls or their position or their cleats, when one of the most dedicated (and talented!) players is legally blind and another doesn't speak any English, when you step back and realize that it's highly unlikely that any of them would have made the team (or been able to stay on it for any length of time) at any of the schools we play against? You can imagine why the coach comes home after every single practice with a twitch in his eye and a tendency to thump his head on the dinner table repeatedly.

And then he sighs, pulls out his clipboard, and draws up a new play that magically accommodates that entire list of struggles. Because it's worth it. They are worth it. And they need it.

Think about all of the good things that can come from high school sports - the camaraderie and teamwork, the pride and confidence, the perseverance and determination. Our guys need these benefits, some of them desperately, and they receive them. If you want to be on the team at Flint? You are on the team, end of story. 

Now think about all of the sensory issues you get to face down in one afternoon of football practice. Pads and helmets, noise and confusion, discomfort and physical contact. Imagine how strong you would feel, battling through the chaos and pressure of a game when you have severe anxiety. Think of all the communication skills that get practiced, the social skills that get reinforced, the behavior modifications that can be built in, the anger issues that pop up and demand to be addressed. This list could go on for miles, but what I'm saying is that our athletics program is, in a very real sense, extremely sneaky therapy. That the boys sign up for voluntarily! Even if they never won a game, do you have any idea how incredibly valuable that is?

I've been hesitant to write this post because it's not something we tend to highlight. Behind the scenes, yes, we know all of the diagnoses and accommodations and goals. They are discussed at great length on a near-daily basis, actually. Just not with any kind of fanfare. Most of the schools we play have no idea of the variety of diagnoses on our rosters, and the vast majority of our students are fairly oblivious as well. A few times coaches have sidled up to Aaron before a game to confide awkwardly, "Just FIY, uh, we've got a kid with special needs on our team this year, so..." And Aaron just nods, because what do you say? I hear you, buddy, meet my entire team? That's just not how we see it. 

It's like how we don't see Flint as a "special needs" school. It's a school, and we'll teach any child who walks through the doors, anything they need to learn. Tons of our kids are typical or advanced, actually. And tons aren't, and they are all mixed up side by side in the classrooms all day, participating in lessons, doing service projects, going on field trips, and rehearsing for the school plays. It's often messy and chaotic, and makes our eyes twitch, but it's worth it. It's family. It's beautiful and it works.

The varsity basketball team won the season opening game last Thursday 71-37, I'm just saying.


  1. Love this. You and your Hubby are a really special kind of people. So thankful people like you exist in this world. ♡ Go Flint!

  2. Love this. You and your Hubby are a really special kind of people. So thankful people like you exist in this world. ♡ Go Flint!

  3. I love that this is just part of life and so therefore not something that you discuss a lot like this, but I also loved how you did share it, because it is special, and people need to know how much the hard stuff is really worth it! I wish my sister could teach at a school like yours; it sounds so much like stuff that she tries to do, but is really limited in a mainstream school.


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