For the Sandcrabs' Jalen Wilson, Isaac Mott and Joseph Justice, the ceaseless smiles are why they continue to give back.
In his junior year at Seabreeze High School, Jalen Wilson, who was helping coach a track team composed of special needs kids, eagerly watched as one of his runners prepared to take the baton in the state championship.
The runner dropped the baton, dashing the team’s chance at a win. But that didn’t dampen his spirit.
“He just picked it right back up and was just laughing the whole way,” said Wilson, now a senior at Seabreeze. “He was care-free. … It was funny.”
Scenes like at last year’s track event have become common place for Sandcrabs football players Wilson, Joseph Justice and Isaac Mott. For the past few years, the trio has been heavily involved with the Special Olympics and a class of special needs students at Seabreeze.
On each school day, the three boys spend their entire seventh period entertaining and playing with a class of kids with a wide range of special needs.
And every Wednesday, they get to play sports. Hibachi ball, tennis, track and field, basketball, softball and football are a sample the group has played over the years. Wilson, Justice and Mott all take turns competing and coaching the kids.
On some weekends, they compete in tournaments.
Last year, the flag football team got to run around the field at the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, also known as The Swamp. The team finished in second place at the event.
This season, the flag football team will have a chance to compete in the State Fall Classic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista.
Wilson, Joseph and Mott aren’t just coaches, however. They compete on the field, too.
“If they mess up, we’ll coach them during the game and get them to the right spots,” said Mott, a senior in his second year with the program. “The kids are just really happy. If you do anything, you’ll put a smile on their face.”
For Wilson and Mott, their start in the program began with the suggestion of their football coach. Joseph, a sophomore at Seabreeze, has been involved since the eighth grade.
“The principal kind of pulled me aside and asked if I wanted to take a class with the kids. I did, and it was just amazing,” Joseph said. “You go in there, and their faces just light up. It’s the best feeling ever.”
The shining smiles are why the trio continues to be involved in the program, and the almost unyielding positivity of the kids they work with continues to inspire.
“Some people think that you might have to act a certain way with the kids, but they’re people, too,” Mott said. “They’re actually happier than most people. We win a game, they’re all happy. We lose a game, they’re still happy. As long as they’re out there with us, they’re having fun.”