Two members of the Sanger football team will never score a touchdown, but they are inspiring fans on both sides of the field.
Blake Pyron and Austin Waters suit up every Friday night in Sanger jerseys and lead the team out of the tunnel and onto the field — an honor bestowed on the two friends by their Sanger teammates.
Pyron and Waters, who both live with Down syndrome, will never play a down, but they’ve been among the team’s biggest supporters — in voice and action — for the last two seasons.
They work the sidelines during games providing the players with water and encouragement and occasionally serve as momentary Indians cheerleaders. And now, thanks to an idea initiated by senior defensive end Dalton Hassell, one of Sanger’s four captains, Pryon and Waters are the team’s leaders when it comes to running onto the field prior to kickoff.
“Blake would be playing football if he didn’t have limitations,” said his mother, Mary Ann Pyron. “So for him to be on the Water Team is great. Then for the team to actually reach out to him and have him run out with the team, that’s real special.”
Hassell has known Pyron and Waters since elementary school, and last year he was a mentoring pal to Pyron at Sanger High School. After seeing a video clip of the Nebraska football team in which a young fan suffering from cancer was given the chance to run for a touchdown in the Cornhuskers’ spring game, Hassell decided that Pyron and Waters should have a bigger role with the Sanger team.
The idea became a reality before Sanger’s home opener against Liberty Christian School on Sept. 6. With arms raised to the sky and smiles reaching ear to ear, Pyron and Waters made the run of their life, and last Friday, they led the team onto the field prior to the Indians’ 50-17 victory over Pilot Point High School at Indian Stadium.
So now, in addition to being the team’s leaders coming onto the field, Pyron and Waters are called the Indians’ lucky charms.
Pyron and Waters were born two weeks apart and have grown up together. And the Pyron family has been deeply involved in Sanger football: Blake’s older brother, Mitchell, played several years ago and now Blake has nephews who play and nieces who are cheerleaders.
“Blake loves the Sanger Indians, and he loves football,” said Mary Ann Pyron. “He wanted to play football like his big brother. Everybody’s involved so, of course, we wanted Blake to be involved. For him to actually be able to run out and lead the team onto the field is very wonderful.”
Beginning this week, the Indians play consecutive games on the road and it’s unclear whether the two friends will fill the role of leading the team out onto the field at away games.
“If they’re at away games, I’d be glad to let them do it,” said Hassell. “If they go, they can do it.”
In the meantime, Pyron and Waters, both 17, are living a dream come true.
“For them to run in front of us, it really gets them excited,” said senior lineman Dylan Welborn. “I think I’m enjoying it as much as they are. I love having those guys out on the field with us. It wouldn’t be the same without them.”
Mary Ann Pyron is overjoyed that her son is getting to experience a whole new role with the team.
“He’s happy, he’s involved, and he’s having the full high school experience,” she said.
We think it’s great that the team has selected Blake Pyron and Austin Waters to handle such an important job, and judging from their performance thus far, they are more than up to the task.
They are real winners, and in our view, so is everyone involved with this project.
Thanks for the inspiration.