- Associated Press - Saturday, September 3, 2016

LAKEVILLE, Ind. (AP) - The sun is just thinking about going down over the practice field, and a player in the back has dropped to the ground in boredom while the coaches are talking.

Then 8-year-old Max Adkins rolls to his side. He flops onto his back. Pretty soon, as the coach discussion lingers, another kid is staring off the field. Two more decide to sit.

That’s a hazard with coaching youth football: Kids who are between 7 and 10 years old bore easily when the activity wanes.

Max, who has Down syndrome, is just another kid on this LaVille Youth Football team. And that delights his parents.

The Adkinses lived in New Jersey until about a year ago, when they moved to LaPaz to be closer to family.



Max has been a football fan since he was 3, content to watch football games and videos for hours at a time. But several attempts to sign him up for youth football in New Jersey proved fruitless.

“They didn’t tell us no,” said David Adkins, Max’s father. “They just never responded” to phone calls or emails. “We got turned down so many times.”

At back-to-school night Aug. 9, his wife, Janice, urged David to go talk with the guys at the youth football table. David remembers tentatively bringing up the topic of his son’s disability in asking whether it was too late to sign up.

“Without hesitation, they said, No problem. Doesn’t matter,” David says.

“They opened their arms up to him and said, Sign him up, we’ll take care of him,” Janice says.

Max is the shortest among the 15 players at practice Thursday night, but his 75 pounds makes him strong and lend him a football build.

His disability affects his speech more than anything else, says his mom, who most understands his own language. He’s picked up sign language, which the family is learning, too.

During practice, a coach tells him where to go on the field, and another player pats his shoulder as he passes. The other kids, including his 8-year-old cousin Gage Jones, watch for him, as they watch out for each other.

Janice remembers when, at 23 and 6 months pregnant, she first learned her son might have Down’s. That worry, and the discomfort of watching a child be tackled, don’t go away.

But Max mimics well and learns quickly, and he’s ambitious, his parents say. He’s protective of his two younger sisters, Brittany and Madison.

David is especially happy at how his son has grown even since practices began a few weeks ago. Max has learned when it is appropriate to show aggression (on the field, not off). And playing keeps him fit, as opposed to the call of video games and a cell phone screen.

Max balked at first at the calisthenics and running that accompany football. He cried the first time he was tackled.

And the first time he was faced off against a bigger player, he shook his head and walked away. (All normal reactions, if you were to ask me.)

But David is proud the coaches are treating his son like his teammates.

“Every kid needs to see how to strive, that not everything’s handed to you,” David says. “Not one of (the players) has ever looked at him weird. They all look at him like he’s part of the team.”

And that’s the point, his head coach says.

“He showed up, we gave him the pads and we sent him in there,” Joel Lewis says. “It’s something new, but Max is excited to play, so that makes it even better.

“With Max, the kids have really responded,” he says, “and it’s made them more of a team.”

The team’s first official game of the season was Saturday. A local parent donated two pregame season tickets to Saturday night’s Indianapolis Colts home game, with Colts officials donating two more. Saturday was to be a big day for a boy who loves football.

Practice is winding down, and Lewis is delivering instructions and a pep talk for Saturday’s big game. Plenty of sleep, no Mountain Dews.

“I’m excited, guys! Are you excited?” he says.

“Yeah!” the team yells.

“We win as a team, and we lose as a team. There are no individuals, right?”

“Yeah!”

They’re told to huddle up for a break, and Max runs in to add his fist to the pile.

“One, two, three!” Max says loudly, his voice full of football passion. “Big Blue!”

All the hands lift up together before they pull apart.

It’s a team thing.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/2bvb9G2

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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