Local Kid Becomes Honorary Bulldog for Game

With a simple gesture, one high school coach used a game to change lives for the better. / Andrew Schnitker

Michael Stephens has a passion for his drums and his dog, Chi Chi, but nothing beats his love for football.

"That's all he talks aboutâ|he just wants to play football," Michael's mother, Katoya Stephens said.

Michael is a six-year-old with autism and uncontrollable epilepsy. Over the past year, the Stephens family has made over 100 trips to the hospital. Michael also takes over 10 medications a day that costs the family around $2700 a month. Currently, Michael is preparing for brain surgery in hopes of ending the damaging fits of epilepsy.

"It's almost like he's unlearning things. Everything becomes a challenge from school to behavior to daily life things such as putting on a shirt," Stephens said.

As the Stephens family was set to begin those doctor visits, Michael's favorite sport came in to play along with a special invitation from Thomasville head football coach Richie Marsh.

"A big thing here is our run through, the cheerleaders do such an awesome job with it, they spend a lot of time on it. I thought it would be awesome if I was a little kidâ|if I had the opportunity to break a run through at a football gameâ|that might be a memory I'd never forget," Coach Marsh said.

Michael got his chance to be an honorary Bulldog making a full day out of the event. The bright lights were shining at Veterans Stadium on Michael's special day. The evening included signs, pictures with cheerleaders and leading the Thomasville team in its huddle.

But it wasn't complete without Michael leading the Bulldogs on to the field.

"I haven't seen him this happy and carefree in a long timeâ|a long time," Katoya Stephens said reflecting on Michael's charge through the paper.

With a simple gesture, one high school coach used a game to change lives for the better. In sports, most things are about winning and losing. Everyone involved with Michael's wish on this night was a winner.

"That's what those moments are for, I think when they're real they make an impact on both parties. I just thank god that it made an impact on our kids as much or more than it did on the young man," Coach Marsh said.

"It was a big, big boost...something we needed. He needed it, his sister needed it, I needed it...just something to get our minds off of the actual reality of what's going on," Stephens said.