NORWALK, Conn. Norwalk's Jamie Taylor runs, tackles and hits opponents just like any other boy on the Norwalk Grizzlies sixth/seventh grade football team. From the sidelines, it's impossible to see what makes the Roton Middle School 13-year-old a special player.
Taylor, however, is special. He was born with Down syndrome . And he is among the few boys in the state with the genetic condition to play youth football. But some doctors advised his parents, Theresa and Jamie Sr., against it.
"He had a little bit of a journey,'' Theresa said. "Not because of any medical reason. They were judging him by his disability, not by his ability."
Jamie also plays basketball and baseball. He has played the past two years with the Grizzlies. He went to the games of his older brother, Frank Machinello, and loved the sport. "I like hitting people and being part of a team,'' Jamie said.
His parents encouraged him to play. They could see how much their son wanted to be a part of it. "He would go to practices without his pads,'' Theresa said. "He wanted so badly to be with them."
A local orthopedic doctor recommended against it because of medical risks. The Taylors disagreed, and taking their pediatricians advice, sought another medical opinion. An orthopedic specialist at Yale-New Haven Hospital gave Jamie the green light to play.
"The one area they were concerned about was his neck,'' Theresa said. "Kids with Down syndrome have more flexibility. Obviously, we don't want him to get hurt. Physically, he was able to play. And mentally, it's not like he's wandering around when he is on the field. He really plays the game."
His father helps coach the team, and coaches his son with the same instruction and guidance he offers to all the young players. "We don't treat him any differently,'' Jamie Sr. said. "He has a pretty good understanding of the game."
Young Jamie also rows in a program with the Norwalk River Rowing Association and is an accomplished swimmer. He is popular with his Grizzlies teammates and is often referred to as "The Mayor" for his infectious personality. "He's a super kid,'' Grizzlies coach Scott Coulter said. "He has a great attitude. He always gives his best and he never gives me any trouble. He's a pleasure to have on the team."
Besides the physical aspects of playing a sport, Jamie has also benefited from being on a team. "It has been great for his confidence,'' Theresa said. "Like any young boy, he wants to feel like he's part of something. It has been great for him to be with a team."
The Taylors are willing to let their son play football as long as he wants. Jamie enjoys the game, the kids, the coaches. They believe there's no reason for him not to play, despite what some "professionals" might say. "A lot of kids don't get the opportunity,'' Theresa said. "They are able to do a lot of things if they're given the chance. They just have to get the chance."
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