Traci Reed has delighted in the sight of University of Delaware football games for nearly all of her 49 years.
Her parents began bringing her to games when she was an infant.
Saturdays were spent inside and outside Delaware Stadium, rooting for the Blue Hens and spending time with family and friends.
She remembers fellow Middletown native Dale Fry starting at quarterback for the Blue Hens in 1993, then demonstrating his prolific passing arm by flinging a football far across the parking lot after a game.
But the view is particularly appealing now for Reed, even though her eyesight is severely compromised.
These days, she gets to observe her son Jake, the Caravel Academy graduate, serve as the Blue Hens’ long snapper on punts, field goals and extra-point kicks.
And though she can only see Jake through special glasses or binoculars, and cannot even decipher his jersey number 68, she treasures what her eyes do allow her to glimpse.
Then she lets her other senses fill her with the wonderful sensations that come with sitting in a stadium during a college football game.
“I can still feel it,” she said. “I go off the emotions of the crowd.’’
His mother’s plight and presence certainly motivate and inspire Jake, who overcame his own hardships as a Blue Hen.
In 2018, he remained the third-string long-snapper, even though Delaware had several costly mishaps on punts and placement kicks. The following season, days before the season opener against Delaware State, he was elevated to the starting position, which he’s held ever since.
“My decision to come here was to stay close to her,” said Jake, who played for his dad John, the coach at Caravel Academy. “That was pretty important to me. At my position, I might only get like eight or nine snaps a game. That’s also a good thing because she knows when I’m going out there because she can focus.”
Traci and John sit in the front row for home games at Delaware Stadium.
“I can see the field and the other stands,” Traci said. “I just can’t see if there’s people in them. I can see the boys running around on the sidelines. I just can’t read their numbers. I can’t follow the play, see the scoreboard, that kind of thing.”
With her special binoculars, which provide what she describes as her own form of tunnel vision, Traci can actually zero in on Jake snapping the football. But she can’t see much detail and her eyes are very sensitive to light. Her peripheral vision and color perception are also skewed.
She described her vision field as being akin to a rain puddle at a gas station in which an oily film creates a colorful spectrum.
“It’s pretty cool to have her so close to the field,” Jake said, adding it may take 30 seconds for his mom to actually pinpoint his precise location on the sideline after his whereabouts are pointed out.
'I couldn’t figure out who people were'
In 2011, Traci Reed was diagnosed with Cone Rod Dystrophy. It’s an incurable genetic disorder in which light-sensitive cells in the retina become detached.
A couple years before that, during a Caribbean cruise with several families, her eyes had become strangely irritated and bloodshot.
Soon after, while working her job at an area bank as a third-party payment processor, she began having difficulty following the cursor on her computer screen. There was a frustrating year of trying to determine what was ailing her before she went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and specialists quickly diagnosed the problem.
“When I turned 40,” she said, “that was kind of a low point. I couldn’t work anymore, I couldn’t drive and I couldn’t figure out who people were.”
The condition has grown steadily worse.
“I realized how bad it had gotten a few years ago,” said Traci’s dad, Bob Cox, a 1972 UD graduate and former president of the Blue Hen Touchdown Club boosters. “We were driving to a game at Richmond and going through Washington, D.C.
“I said ‘Oh, look,’ ” Cox added, referring to one of the city’s signature monuments. “She was like ‘What? Where?’ ”
Traci’s vision will continue to deteriorate. Her maternal grandmother lost her sight later in life. Fortunately, Jake and his older sister Hailey have been tested and do not have the same genetic condition.
“It is what it is,” she said. “These are the cards I was dealt.”
She goes grocery shopping with John’s help, not being able to decipher between cereal and potato chip brands, for instance, or read prices.
But the chance to attend Delaware games – the Hens are home again Saturday at 1 p.m. against Dixie State of Utah – remains a chance to get out of the house in Odessa and relish the outdoors and camaraderie of friends and family.
Seeing Jake play is a welcomed bonus.
Jake describes that 2018 season for him personally as “really tough, dark times, because I felt like I was working so hard. I was just doing scout punt, but I took those reps so seriously because I wanted to prove a point and the opportunity never arose or I never got a chance.”
The following year, Delaware hired a new special teams coordinator in Dave Legg. Despite still being the apparent third man on the depth chart, Reed was called in a couple days before the 2019 opener and told he was the starting long snapper.
He’s held the job ever since, handling its demands with a steady and reliable hand while also getting six tackles and a fumble recovery.
“No margin for error,” he said of his approach.” It’s one of those positions you want to get it perfect every time.”
A unique perspective
Because Reed grew up in a football family, Delaware coach Danny Rocco said, he “understands the importance of team and he understands the importance of the roles within the team, so he embraces that role.”
Rocco credited Reed’s versatility that made him part of Delaware’s offensive line depth, playing guard, during recent spring and preseason practices when the Hens weren’t so deep in that position area. At Caravel, Reed was a two-way starter, playing center and some tackle on offense and nose guard on defense.
“He’s kind of always been available, always been eager, ready to do whatever we’ve asked him to do,” Rocco said. “And then he’s just been really, really consistent . . . I think he presents a good example and kind of a calm spirit for those other specialists.’’
Reed first tried long snapping at his dad’s urging about the value of versatility while playing in middle school and in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend youth football program. It allowed him to eventually play for the Blue Hens.
“I’m proud of him fighting through the adversity and hanging in there the way he did,” John Reed said. “Things were bad and he never really got a chance. He got his one chance and they were able to keep him in there because he was consistent.
“I tell him that life lesson is gonna carry you so far in life – making every meeting, every practice, every lift for those two years when things weren’t going your way. That’s tough mentally on these kids. And I think his mom being up there inspires him a lot.”
Jake Reed spends UD football games often looking at the world upside-down, peering back through his legs toward Tyler Pastula, Delaware’s punter and holder, and his awaiting grasp.
Three times in Saturday’s 22-10 loss to James Madison at Delaware Stadium, Reed was staring into the end zone, with Delaware backed up deep in its own territory to punt, making his task particularly pressure-packed.
That distinctive role, plus a life spent attending and now playing in Delaware football games, has given him a unique perspective. His mother’s predicament has allowed him to treasure it even more.
Her world got turned upside-down, too. But when Jake looks in the stands, he can spot her and she, with assistance, can see him, too. And that's a beautiful vision for both.
“It’s really special,” Jake Reed said, “because growing up, I would have my youth football games and then after that it was like, there’s no question what we’re doing Saturday. It was like come home, get ready, we’re going to the stadium for a game. We would even travel to away games.
“It’s really special to be able to be a part of the program, growing up, watching it my whole life.”
Follow Kevin Tresolini on Twitter @kevintresolini.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: College football: Mom with vision disorder treasures watching son play