Evidently Friday, Sep. 24, was an even more special night for high school football than we previously realized. While Ike Ditzenberger raced towards the end zone on the final play of Snohomish (Wash.) High's loss, another player with special needs scored in the final seconds of his team's homecoming victory some 1,700 miles away in Wisconsin.
According to a story by Brett Hart of the Dunn County News, Menomonie (Wisc.) High School senior receiver Sam Kolden, a four-year Indians player with autism, scored the first -- and in all likelihood, the last -- touchdown of his high school career last Friday. Kolden cleanly caught a screen pass from Menonomie quarterback James Nelson and ran 66 yards to the end zone, all while players from Superior (Wisc.) High School dove at his feet while letting him slip past.
"It was amazing,” Kolden told WEAU-TV.
Amazingly, Menomonie coach Joe LaBuda didn't even ask Superior to let Kolden score on the play. Instead, Superior insisted. According to a column by the Superior Telegram's Don Leighton, LaBuda called a timeout with a little more than a minute remaining after Menomonie received a kickoff. After chatting with his players, LaBuda spoke briefly with officials and then walked across the field to ask Superior coach Bob DeMeyer to have his players take it easy on Kolden when they tackled him.
And here, according to the Superior Telegram, is what DeMeyer told LaBuda:
"Why tackle him? Let him score a touchdown."
"The coolest thing was the Superior kids and their coaching staff showed a tremendous amount of sportsmanship," LaBuda told WEAU. "You know, it'd be different if you did that when you were ahead by 40 points, but to be behind and say 'you know what? This is more important' and give up 7 more points. It was a tremendous example of their character and of what kind of people they are. Great act of sportsmanship. Class act on their part.”
Menomonie wound up beating Superior, 52-14.
Kolden's touchdown bore remarkable similarities to the one in Snohomish, with one clear difference: Kolden scored when his team was salting away a decisive win while Ditzenberger scored on the final play of a loss. Kolden also reportedly found himself celebrating the touchdown with the Superior defenders as much as he did with his own teammates.
Kolden's touchdown did more than just pad Menomonie's victory, too; it made the senior the game's leading receiver.
For one week, it also provided an unknowing bond between Kolden's small school in Wisconsin and Ditzenberger's in Washington state, nearly 2,000 miles away.