Sunset-Freedom video of inspiring wrestler goes viral
By CAROL STUART / Franklin Home Page
7th-grader with cerebral palsy follows up football with match on the mat
Jared Stevens, the Sunset Middle student whose touchdown-scoring play in a wheelchair warmed Brentwood Home Page readers’ hearts, is back at a new sport. An inspiring video has gone viral across the nation and beyond of Jared, who has severe cerebral palsy, in a wrestling match with Freedom Middle School student Justin Kievit from last Thursday.
“I think a lot of people are scared to put kids like me on the mat, but they don’t need to be,” Jared said Monday night after wrestling practice and his Boy Scout meeting.
The seventh-grader from Sunset told his father Phil Stevens earlier Monday that he didn’t know what all the excitement about the video is. But a video posted by Kievit's father Craig has already gotten over 80,000 shares on Facebook from places far away like St. Cloud, Minn., and Jared's father also has his mat-side version posted on youtube.com.
“Coach Mayes asked the other team which player has the biggest heart, and they picked this kid out of the line,” the dad said. “We'd never met this kid
“The first time he met Jared was when he shook hands with him before the match. So it really was spontaneous. They just picked this kid. If you watch the video, he just did an amazing job. There's not many adults comfortable putting hands on a disabled kid, much less another 13-year-old.”
In the video, Justin shakes hands and then helps pull Jared’s arm over his own body after the match so he gets pinned after a short time.
“It felt good,” Jared said about his first wrestling experience.
Jared is technically a junior varsity wrestler, while Justin is a seventh-grader on the varsity squad as a 90-pounder and captain.
"Coach (Clay) Mayes at Sunset is a very special coach who does so much for his kids in his program," said Freedom Middle Coach Randy Stevens, no relation to Jared. "When he told me about Jared and that he wanted to get him a match, we discussed how to go about doing this. Coach Mayes asked me is I had a really special kid, who understood the situation. I knew that Justin was the one.
"He is captain of the team as only seventh-grader for his being a great kid, works hard, wants to lead and cares about his teammates. Coach Mayes and I called him over and asked him if he wanted to wrestle Jared and he said that he would be happy to do it. The rest you saw on the video."
Jared is one of three triplet brothers and five children in his family, who wanted to join his siblings on the football field last year. Against Woodland Middle, his teammates helped push him across the goal line on the final play of the game carrying the ball in a wheelchair.
“Last year he tried football, then he decided he wanted to try something different,” Phil Stevens said.
Jared had been on the sidelines at basketball, helping coach, and then wrestling came up. Sunset teacher and assistant wrestling coach Jon Sandella, who carried Jared to the mat in the video, helped make it happen along with head wrestling and football coach Clay Mayes.
“Clay's the one who let him play football last year; the same inclusiontype mindset pervades the sports program, which is good,” the dad said. “So Jared asked about it, and originally he was just kind of with the team helping coach type thing, which he does that because he can't participate a lot of times.
“Then he asked about getting on the mat during practice.”
The coaches agreed and Jared had to go through the sports physical and get his shots like everybody else.
He was willing to go through all that. Then he started practicing getting on the mat some, and coaches would wrestle with him. He asked one day if he could be in a match and Coach looked at me and I said fine with me. Put him in.”
While getting a ton of publicity, the video is only 1½ minutes long but took a lot of people giving their time and effort to pull off, Phil Stevens noted.
“The coaches were willing to work with him, the other team's coach was willing to let this occur, and a 13-year-old kid was willing to go out and do all this spur of the moment. A lot of people contributed to make a minute and a half happen for Jared, so that's what's neat."
The Stevenses have gotten calls from a couple of wrestling coaches across the country including one in New York City's Pittsfield Middle School who wanted to says thanks because he was using the video to show his team.
Jared was nervous before getting on the mat, but his nerves went away once he got out there, his dad said.
“Jared just likes to do stuff like everybody else," his dad said. "There's a limit to what he can do, but something like wrestling, he can do that as much as he can do. He just enjoys being out there participating. He doesn't mind trying anything."