MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. — Something special happened at Monarch Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The newest member of the Moundsville Middle School football team scored a touchdown against rival Sherrard Middle School in the waning moments of the game. This despite the fact that sixth grader Isaiah Leasure suffers from a neuromuscular condition and uses a wheelchair.
“The clock was getting ready to expire,” Moundsville coach Donnie Gilbert said. “I gave the ball to Isaiah and told him to run an ’18 Sweep’ to the right. And he went 65 yards for the touchdown.”
Gilbert said that until that moment, only he, the opposing coach and Leasure’s parents knew that he was going to get a chance to score. When he handed Leasure the ball, Gilbert said that his expression was “priceless” and that he told the coach that his life dream just came true.
“I just teared up and so did everybody else involved,” Gilbert said. “It’s a feeling you can’t describe in words.”
The story began earlier this week when the 12-year-old Leasure came up to Gilbert and asked if he could join the football team. According to his aide and aunt, Amanda Leasure, he expected to be a ball boy or maybe be allowed to hold the ball during games until it was time to give it to the referee.
Gilbert saw it differently.
“I immediately said yes, he could join the team,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t even have to think about it. Got him a jersey that day. His face lit up when he got that jersey. That’s a kind of joy you don’t see every day.”
Gilbert was watching “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” at home with his wife when he spontaneously came up with the idea of sending Leasure into a game. He knew Leasure had gone to Disney World with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but thought that playing time might even top that experience.
The next day – game day – a football sticker was placed on Leasure’s locker, signifying his membership on the team. After school, Gilbert called his friend Rob Chavanak, football coach at Sherrard, and told him his idea.
“Donnie wanted to know if we could stay for an extra play,” Chavanak said. “Maybe have the players stay out there after the game. I said, ‘Better than that, before the clock runs out, let him run and go down and score.'”
Chavanak told his players the plan, not knowing what to expect. They didn’t ask, “What if the game is tied?” or, “What if we’re only winning by a little bit?”
Instead they said that they were ready to help Leasure’s dream come true.
“The kindness in those players’ hearts,” Chavanak said. “They wanted to win, but they’d rather help out a boy on the opposing team than win the game. The community brought these young men up the right way.”
The evening of the game was perfect for football according to Gilbert – 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Down 20-7 in the final moments of the game, Gilbert handed Leasure the ball and told him to go for it. After he scored, players and fans from both teams surrounded him in the end zone, cheering and patting him on the back. Leasure was given the game ball to keep.
Gilbert invited Leasure to give a speech in the locker room after the game. The boy told his teammates that they’d never know how much the touchdown meant to him, and that he couldn’t thank them enough.
He also told them to never forget how fortunate they were to be able to run around and play the game of football.
“This is a 12-year-old kid that has been through more than any adult,” Gilbert said. “The maturity of him to say what he said to those kids was mind blowing. Since that speech there’s a bond that won’t be broken between those kids. They’re not just football players. They’re family.”