Four years after making a promise to himself in an eighth-grade scrapbook, a Massachusetts student-athlete with Down syndrome made his dream come true.
As detailed in a wonderful feature by Standard-Times assistant sports editor Laurie Los, Dartmouth (Mass.) senior Ben Szteliga, 18, is the school’s first student with special needs to make the football team, and he made his varsity debut during a 24-0 victory against rival Fairhaven (Mass.) on Thanksgiving Day.
“I was so excited and happy to play,” Szteliga told The Standard-Times. “I got to play with my friends. It means everything to me.”
After committing in middle school to play football for Dartmouth like his father Bryan did, Szteliga played at the freshman and junior varsity levels, but never saw action on the varsity despite running sprints and practicing drills just like the rest of his Indians teammates for the past two seasons. That all changed when he lined up at wide receiver alongside his brother Max, a junior.
“He got his opportunity and he took it,” Dartmouth coach Rick White told the local paper. “He played wide receiver and did some blocking for us. He’s really come a long way since freshman year. His work ethic has improved. His self discipline has improved. His willingness to work harder in practice has improved. He was hitting the heavy bag as hard as he has all year last week getting ready for Fairhaven.”
Szteliga’s teammates echoed that sentiment, as senior captains Matt Craig and Chris Martin respectively told The Standard-Times, “He’s one of us,” and, “He’s everything to us.” Which is really saying something at Dartmouth High, where the Indians just captured a second consecutive Division III state championship.
Speaking of dreams come true, Szteliga earned a second Super Bowl ring. That’s something few high school football players — including his dad — can claim.