MADISON, NJ - In the ever growing and competitive world of youth sports, two teams of Morris County ten year old football players have shown that more can be learned from a game than winning and losing.
Jackson Conroy is a Madison Youth football player who is special. Conroy is autistic, but it has never stopped him from both enjoying and finding his place on the field.
On Saturday, October 31, the Madison Dodgers Super Pee Wee team played the Randolph Bulldogs. This was not the first time the teams squared off; they had scrimmaged in August when the Bulldogs, led by Coach Derrick Clark, first met Conroy.
"When we first played Madison over the summer we were made aware that Conroy was on the team and may have some special needs while playing. I explained to the boys what autism was and that it was important for them to understand there was a special player, and they should take care while he was in the game," said Clark. "Many of the kids knew what autism was and I answered some questions they had."
"Jackson got out there and my boys were great. We made it possible for him to score a touchdown with a little more ease and Jackson just beamed. I have two nephews who are both autistic so this was close to my heart and I think it was great he was out there and feeling some success and pride during the game. We all felt great," Clark added.
When the teams met for the second time this fall the Randolph Bulldogs had a surprise for Conroy in the works.
"The boys remembered Jackson and his touchdown from the summer scrimmage and our assistant coach, Steve Fogel had the great idea to get a ball and all our players signed it," said Clark. "The boys all wanted to wish him the best of luck and this was our way of doing it."
Jaime Conroy, Jackson's mother recalls, "As I dropped Jackson off at the field, his head coach, Pete Mazzocchi, came up to me with tears in his eyes and asked if I had a camera with me. He went on to tell me that the Bulldogs coach and his team all signed a game ball and that they would be presenting it to Jackson at the coin toss. Jackson’s team made him team captain for the game so he got to call the coin toss too. It was unexpected and amazing,"
"I could go on and on about how awesome football has been for Jackson but I will simply say this: I have done a lot to raise autism awareness, but, Jackson, being out there every practice, every game, is the best awareness raising there could possibly be. His team knows that he is different but they are kind, and respectful and supportive of him every single solitary step of the way. These kids have gotten to know him and like him. He knows they are his friends. To know that he is also having that affect on the teams he is playing, is amazing to me," added Conroy.
"We lost that game to Madison, the one that Jackson scored. I try to teach these boys winning or losing is not the most important thing. It's the life experiences. You will learn more from a loss then you ever will from a win," said Clark.
"Every team we played all season was wonderful about Jackson playing," said Mazzocchi. "He's a good kid. He taught some of the toughest kids on the Madison team more then they taught him in my opinion. Our kids grew personally because Jackson was out there. They helped with his helmet, cheered for him and when they got on the field if Jackson was in they knew their job was to protect him."
"Autism is not a disease. These are kids and people just like us. I have the utmost respect for his parents who always said to get him in the game and let him go," added Mazzocchi. "I have coached since 1976. Coaches, football, can have a bad rap. But this is about more than autism or football. It's about respect for people. Each time on the field should be a lesson. Every team we played this year was wonderful to Jackson. Our team was wonderful to him as well as to each other. These are teaching moments, we need to remember that."
"I got to thank Coach Clark at the end of the game. It must have looked pretty weird what with me sprinting onto the field and all, but I wanted to thank him while I had the chance. I introduced myself and he asked if I was Jackson’s mom. He said that he thought it was great what Jackson was doing out there and explained about his two nephews. He said that seeing Jackson out there really moved him and he wanted his kids to do something special. We talked about how great it was that Jackson was reaching the kids on the teams we were playing, not just those in his own community. Then he gave me a big hug. It was a really nice exchange. The Randolph Bulldogs Super Pee Wee team is all class in my book," said Conroy.