The Times West Virginian

October 29, 2013

Young athlete provides big inspiration

By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — We could all use a little hope.

When you flip on the television in today’s world, the channels are filled with news of robberies, deaths and government shutdowns. When a feel-good story comes along, we should grab ahold of it and treasure it.

Last week in Parkersburg, one of those stories happened.

Zach Hamilton is a student at Hamilton Middle School. According to his mother, Tonya Moyer, Zach has been playing football since the age of 7 or 8. Moyer explained that her son has hearing loss, low muscle tone and autism. Students with those issues can oftentimes have trouble adapting socially and mentally in a school setting. Moyer, along with Zach’s therapist, came up with a lasting solution: football.

After playing for a few years, Zach moved into middle school and his mother was worried that the team would scowl at the mention of a kid with autism playing football. She was delightfully wrong.

“I was afraid they’d say no, but they welcomed him,” Moyer said.

Zach has since joined the team and gets a chance to play in every game, Moyer said. And he loves it.

“He isn’t a starter, but he gets in every game,” said Moyer. “He has gotten used to hitting; he is a giant. He hasn’t quite grasped the concept of what he is to do.”

While Zach is just happy to be out on the field with his teammates, he has aspirations of bigger goals and his mother says he’s well on his way and is capable.

“He says he doesn’t want to hurt his friends so he isn’t quite as aggressive as I know he can be,” Moyer said. “I’ve seen him playing with his brothers and toss them across the room easily. If only we could get it through his head that’s what he needs to do on the field.”

As if the simple fact that this gentle giant Zach stands 6-foot-2 and with a tender heart plays football wasn’t enough, his football team made one great gesture for their team player.

When the Hamilton Wild Cats took the field Oct. 17 for their last game of the season, they had one goal: to get Zach into the end zone.

After trying and somehow failing in the first half, the opposing team’s coach took notice. The coaches worked something out that allowed Zach to run the ball and be surrounded by his teammates as he scored his first touchdown of his playing career.

Moyer said she was just as surprised as everyone else.

“It was a total surprise,” she said. “I couldn’t even take pictures or tape it. I was so shocked. I just sat with my hands over my mouth, crying in surprise and joy.”

Zach was given the game ball and was given the chance to celebrate with his teammates during and after the game.

The team has really embraced Zach, Moyer said.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” she said. “I’ve seen a nonverbal child blossom into a somewhat verbal teen.”

Moyer said the opportunity for her son has been equally important for his mental and social development.

“It has helped him physically with the low muscle tone, and has been a barrier breaker socially in helping him communicate both with his teammates and coaches and has helped him feel more ‘normal.’ He is always excited to get on the field and, win or lose, he is happy to be a part of the team. I believe it’s helped his teammates, as well, to understand that he and other kids aren’t necessarily odd or weird, just a little different.”

We could all learn something from this young man. He doesn’t let something like autism stop him from being part of something he enjoys doing. When the doctor told him that he’d never play sports at first, it could have crushed his spirits.

But it didn’t.

Zach and his mother have been fighting a battle they have been winning so far, and Zach plans to continue winning the battle. The athlete plans to join the football team in high school when he moves on.

While he continues to make strides in his own life, we should do the same and make strides to overcome the things we let stand in our way.

So thank you, Zach, for being a great role model for those who need a little inspiration.

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.