For four years, North Warren (N.J.) High's Mark Griffin dedicated himself to the school's boys lacrosse program. As the team's manager, he filled water bottles, cheered his teammates and lived and died to an almost unhealthy degree with its success and failures.
As a 19-year-old living with Down Syndrome, his role with the lacrosse program was among the most important things in Griffin's life. Then, for one day in early May, North Warren got to do something that lacrosse coach Rob Steingall had hoped to do for years: Griffin took his team's opening face-off … and won it.
According to the Newark Star-Ledger, for a very deserved and special 21 seconds the senior was the center of attention for all lacrosse in New Jersey. Living with Down Syndrome is just a small part of the health problems that have marked Griffin's stilll young life. He has overcome open heart surgery, spinal surgery and a debilitating case of degenerative arthritis, which was supposed to have him in a wheelchair by age 16.
To even move, Griffin's needs his mother to stretch out his fingers, hands, arms and legs each morning. Yet he still never hesitated to be fascinated and obsessed with sports, particularly lacrosse.
When he finally got on the field, Griffin and all those around him were understandably excited.
"It's the best day ever," Griffin told the Star-Ledger. "It's my biggest game. I'm just happy."
And while Griffin has gained so much for being a part of the school's lacrosse program, his teammates say they've taken just as much from getting to spend time with him.
"Even though he has all these troubles in his life, he'll never slow down; he'll always be happy," North Warren senior co-captain Kyle Pollard, who plans to study special education, told the Star-Ledger. "We're best friends. Because of him, I chose my path in my career for life. He's a great inspiration to me."
"People look at me [Mark Griffin's mother, Deborah Griffin] and say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry,' and I say, 'No, I'm so sorry for you because you don't have a Mark.' He takes nothing for granted. Putting clean sheets on his bed, you'd think you'd given him the winning lottery ticket. We should clone him and give everybody a Mark and then they'd understand."