Sometimes, a team can show just how big it is by remaining gracious in a loss. Last Friday, the coach of an Indiana high school took that adage to an extreme by allowing one of the classiest touchdowns you'll ever see to be scored on his own team.
Last Friday, undefeated Jasper (Ind.) High School was routing Mount Vernon (Ind.) High, 42-21 in the fourth quarter. The scoreline wasn't a huge surprise. The game had gone nearly according to plan for Jasper, which had even found a way to work in the team's most beloved player, senior Zach Beckman. Beckman, a student with Down Syndrome who served as the Jasper team manager for three years, was allowed to be a part of the team during his senior season. His work ethic and Jasper's dominance helped earn Beckman a spot in a handful of plays as a wide receiver on the end of the field away from where a run was headed.
Then, something magical happened. Mount Vernon coach Paul Maier (whose wife is a special education teacher at Mount Vernon) saw Beckman enter the game on the far sideline for a play. Without thinking twice, Maier called over the referees and said he'd make sure that his players didn't hit Beckman if he received a handoff. The referees relayed the message to Jasper coach Tony Ahrens, who drew up a play which featured Beckman in the backfield.
"I think any coach would have done the same thing," Maier told the Evansville Courier & Press. "I saw Zach go into the game, and I thought to myself, 'Boy, it would be nice if he could carry the ball.' I told the referee, and he told their coach. I said if the ball went to No. 2, that he'd probably score."
The rest, as reported in the Courier & Press, is history that ran along an eerily similar parallel to a similar heartwarming moment last month in Washington state.
Beckman got the ball at the 41-yard line and took off for the end zone. By the time he got there, his teammates, his parents, Jasper fans and even opposing fans were in tears. The one person who wasn't, it seems, was Beckman. Instead, he was too busy spiking the ball in celebration and then hugging each and every cheerleader on his way back to the bench.
"I was speechless, tearful and overwhelmed that Zach had achieved his goal of wanting to score a touchdown," Beckman's father, Dean Beckman, who also serves as the Jasper team physician, told Prep Rally. "I spoke to our coaches after the touchdown and thanked them for allowing Zach this moment. They all said that they had nothing to do with it. They had not even practiced handing him the football."
As you can see in the video above, Beckman didn't need much practice to figure out what to do with the ball once he had it in his hands. The senior, who only enters games alongside senior tight end Logan Musgrave, took off down the field with Musgrave as his self-appointed "escort committee," as Musgrave called himself to the Courier & Press.
"I definitely had tears in my eyes when he got to the end zone," Musgrave told the Evansville paper. "I'm definitely not what you could call a stud player. I get in some, but I'm not a starter. I was the guy who volunteered to be with Zach when he goes into a game. I guess that's my main job."
After Musgrave was finished with his "main job," he and his teammates were quick to praise their coaches, assuming -- just as Dean Beckman had -- that they had collaborated with Maier to make it happen. Instead, they and everyone else in the Jasper community were told to thank a man who few knew beforehand, but even fewer would ever forget afterward.
"Later we found out this was truly a random act of kindness by the Mt. Vernon football coach Paul Maier," Dean Beckman told Prep Rally. "We had never met nor talked to him before.
"It was truly a spontaneous decision by a very humble coach as I have gotten to know. His team was getting badly beaten by a bitter rival for the conference championship, and he had two of his best players injured and knocked out of the game by our team."
For his part, Maier is frantically trying to deflect as much credit as possible.
"They're calling me a hero, but I don't feel that way at all," Maier told the Courier & Press. "Heroes are men and women who protect the country and run into burning buildings. What we did was just a nice little gesture to a young man.
"The real credit goes to Coach [Tony] Ahrens for allowing the young man who loves the game to be a part of it."
There's little doubt that Beckman has never enjoyed being a part of it more than on the drive home after Friday night's game.
"Usually on the ride home Zach tries to sleep but he was happy smiling and hooping it up," Dean Beckman told Prep Rally. "We listened to the local radio station on the way home and one of our friends Walt Ferber is the play-by-play announcer. He was very excited for Zach and let his radio audience know that as well. Zach would only cheer louder when he would hear Walt say his name on the radio."