When sports and life lessons mix it's a beautiful thing. Austin Clark is just a freshman, but his life experience is years beyond that. Down syndrome simply doesn't define this young athlete and his band of brothers agree.
"Excitement, happiness, team player," Hixson head coach Jason Fitzgerald and the Wildcats could fill a book with words to define freshman Austin Clark, none of those words would be Down syndrome.
At 4'2 and 140 pounds, Clark is the rock in the middle of Hixson football.
Hixson senior Darion Nicholson said, "that's my little man, he'll be in the locker room dancing, we have fun. He's not just some kid with Down Syndrome, that's how we see it."
That's how thousands saw it during Hixson's final preseason game at Finley Stadium. Clark once again proved that Down Syndrome does not define him. He capped off a win over Grace Academy with his first touchdown, a 75 yarder.
Coach Fitzgerald knows 20 years from now it's not the final scores, state titles and MVP's that matter, it's the Austin Clarks of the world that leave lasting impressions.
"The kids have really come to love him and enjoy being around him. He's been a gift to the football program," said Fitzgerald.
A team rallying around someone who was told he never could.
At home, Clark was a blessing his parents weren't sure they could handle, but quickly learned they needed Austin just as much as Austin need them.
Austin's dad Tony Clark said, "the camaraderie is great, but if it makes some body a better person, that's well worth his purpose in life. I'm very proud of him."
Whether it's coach Fitzgerald who lost a special needs son a few years ago, or the brothers he suits up with on Friday night, Austin Clark has put life into perspective, something that won't soon be forgotten.
"If he can do it, there should be no excuse why you couldn't do it. He will stay in my heart when I graduate. That's a person I'll think about, he never stops so it will motivate me not to stop," said Nicholson.
Wednesday, July 23 2014 1:37 PM EDT2014-07-23 17:37:11 GMT
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