The smile on Keith Orr’s face as he rode off the football field on the s
houlders of hi
ammates only tells half the story. The emotion on the face of his teammates when they talk about their “best buddy” tells the rest.
Orr is experiencing football for the first time this fall as a member of the Olivet eig
hth grade football team. Small in stature, he has dealt with learning and behavioral disabilities most of his life and had never really shown an interest in football until his parents, Jim and Carrie Orr decided Keith needed an extracurricular activity.
So, they contacted the organizers of Olivet’s youth football program to see if they could give it a shot for a week. At the time, they had no idea the kind of impact their son would have on the team.
“He’s never really had a lot of friends,” said Carrie. “The boys have been awesome. They have his back and don’t let anyone pick on him.”
Coach Tim Jungel said Keith’s eternally upbeat and positive presence has made a difference in his team.
“He makes our team so much stronger,” Jungel said. “They’ve all jelled around him.”
Never was his importance to his teammates more evident than midway through Olivet’s game against Eaton Rapids on Saturday, Oct. 5. Running back Sheridan Hedrick broke through the line, racing toward the end zone for a certain touchdown. But, before he reached the goal line, he slid and downed the ball at the one. That’s when Jungel knew it was time to run the “Keith Special.”
The coach called timeout to set up the play, putting all of the team’s biggest blockers up front.
“With that line blocking for him, there was no one that was going to get in his way,” Jungel said.
The sidelines erupted in celebration when Keith crossed the goal line. Just a few weeks prior, he had asked his coach what a touchdown was and on that day, he experienced one for himself.
“It was fun,” Keith said.
Olivet went on to win the game, carrying Keith off the field on their shoulders. The score that afternoon, though really didn’t matter.
“He’s changed all of our lives,” said wide receiver Justice Miller.
“It means everything to have him on our team,” added quarterback Parker Smith.
Jungel said the team approached him about getting Keith in the end zone about a week before the game against Eaton Rapids.
“I think it’s pretty cool that these kids would even think of that at this age,” Jungel said.
“The team came up with the idea,” Hedrick said. “Keith means a lot to all of us. He’s always the happiest kid, always patting you on the back and trying his hardest.”
Looking back, Keith’s mother couldn’t be happier with their decision to give f
ootball a shot.
“He’s had his best start to a school year,” Carrie said. “I’m glad we made this decision.”