Superior (Wis.) football team's selfless act earns accolades
It isn't often that football fans keep bringing up a 38-point defeat. But a selfless act by the Superior Spartans toward the end of last week's road loss to conference foe Menomonie has been resonating far and wide for days.
With about a minute remaining in last Friday's game, and the outcome no longer in doubt, Menomonie coach Joe LaBuda called a timeout.
LaBuda approached the referees, and then the Superior sideline, with a special request. He asked if it would be OK if one of his players could catch a pass, and if Superior's players would take it easy on him when they were tackling him.
The person to catch the ball was senior Sam Kolden, a special-needs player with autism who has been a member of the Menomonie football team for a number of years.
Superior coach Bob DeMeyer heard LaBuda's request, and did one better. He said letting Kolden get a catch was no problem -- "but why we don't just let him score?"
LaBuda said that wasn't necessary, but "everybody in that huddle knew what was the right thing to do," DeMeyer said later. "That's the kind of kids we have."
The Spartans allowed Kolden to catch a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage from quarterback James Nelson and run 66 yards for a touchdown, all while Superior players gave chase, diving at his feet while pretending to tackle him.
The Menomonie sidelines went wild.
"Watching the sidelines of the Menomonie kids, that was incredible," Sam's father, Steve, told Fox 21 News. "It shows character, it shows sportsmanship in the face of adversity. These are things these Superior kids are going to carry through their life. It was just really impressive to see."
"Coach was talking about (how) it's life," Spartans captain Cam Stanley told Fox 21. "It isn't about the game anymore. For that kid, it meant the world for him. He's never going to forget that. No one is ever going to forget that."
"This was a cool thing and a special memory that we're going to have for a long time," DeMeyer said. "Everyone there is going to remember that play. The kid, his parents, his grandparents, friends and his teammates.
"I get a lot of accolades, but the real hero is Sam Kolden for making that catch. That was not a routine catch, and then he had to run down the field. Talking to his dad afterward, they've been working on it in the backyard and he hasn't made that catch very often. That's the really cool thing about it."
Word of the special play quickly spread following the game. Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday, e-mails flowed in to the Superior Telegram from Menomonie fans, praising the Spartan football team and its coaches.
"I didn't realize it would get to this magnitude," DeMeyer said. "For something so simple, and how it impacted so many people, it's amazing. Those type of things need to happen more often."
DeMeyer also was involved with a similar incident as coach of the Northwestern Tigers, when they allowed a special-needs boy from Barron to score a touchdown.
"It was his senior year and the last game of the season," DeMeyer said. "We were winning big late in the game, and we realized they ran a play with a special needs kid on the previous play and we tackled him. So I talked to an assistant coach on the headphones and said we wanted to let the kid score a touchdown. They gave him the ball again and he scored on the next play.
"It was just something that there was no hesitation, no questioning what we were doing. Plain and simple."
That decision, and the one last week, may be plain and simple -- but they have a lasting effect on the team and the community. Theresa Lundgren, the mother of Spartans team manager Zach Lundgren, a special-needs student at the high school, witnessed Sam Kolden's touchdown and wrote a letter about it to the Superior Telegram.
"Sitting in the stands and being able to witness such action not only brought tears to my eyes, it warmed my heart as I am a mother of a special-needs boy," she wrote. "The Superior coaching staff and players have taken my son and welcomed him on to the Superior football team as one of their own. The coaching staff is not only coaching these boys in the skill of football, they are also coaching them in the more important things in life like empathy for others. They all need to know not only have they made a huge difference in my son's life, but they made a difference in our family's life."