It was a scorcher out in the sun Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium in Port Huron, but that didn’t stop 8-year-old Bryson Coronado.
A special needs student at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, Bryson took the handoff from one of his teammates on the Big Red football team and ran it down to the end zone as blockers fell to the right and left of him on the field.
Assistant varsity football coach Dave Tatti played announcer over the loudspeaker for the Victory Day event: “Now he’s on the move! He’s at the 10! He’s at the 5! Touchdown, Bryson Coronado!”
There would be nearly 50 touchdowns by participants before Victory Day was over. The Big Red Marching Machine struck up the school fight song from the stadium stands after each one of them.
In its first year, Victory Day partners area special needs students with football players and cheerleaders from Port Huron High School. The event was organized by Port Huron High School varsity football head coach Ryan Mullins and Tracey Hopp, a counselor at the school whose son has Down syndrome. Hopp is vice president of the St. Clair County Down Syndrome Support Group.
Mullins was happy with the day’s events and the turnout.
“It’s tremendous,” he said. “We’re hoping this is an annual event that just gets better every year.”
The originator of the first Victory Day in 2010, Aaron Segedi, was on hand at the stadium to watch the event. A coach and teacher at Trenton High School, Segedi drove out to show support for Mullins, with whom he played college football at Saginaw Valley State University.
Members of the Port Huron Marching Band perform the fight song during Victory Day Saturday, August 15, 2015 in Memorial Stadium at Port Huron High School. The event paired special needs students with mentors from the football and cheerleading teams.
“He heard about the event in Trenton that I started in 2010 and thought this would be a great fit here in Port Huron. To see it come to fruition here is great. It’s nice to sit and watch everything take place and see these mentors kind of show that selflessness of putting others first. That’s the whole theme behind Victory Day,” Segedi said.
Segedi is a three-time cancer survivor and a liver transplant patient. He started Victory Day after his sister donated 70 percent of her liver to him.
“In 2005 my sister saved my live and from that point on…it became a little bit clearer that life’s about helping others and putting others first,” he said.
Victory Day has since branched off into 38 schools nationwide.
Each participant and mentor had their names announced as they ran through a human tunnel made by the Big Red Marching Machine at the start of the event. The participants all received No. 15 Big Red jerseys they could keep and medals afterward.
Molly Cadewa, 17, a student at Woodland Developmental Center in Marysville, was well-prepared for her touchdown.
Asked what it felt like being cheered on as she made her run, with the announcer calling out her name and the band playing for her, Molly said, “It felt like I was in the game.”
It turned out to be too hot of a day for 5-year-old Ranger Hopp, who has Down syndrome, to make his winning run. His mentor, Big Reds running back and defensive back Marco Bolar, carried Ranger in his arms down the field to cheers from the stands.
Teammates stayed with the pair as they worked their way to the end zone, where Ranger fell to his knees and kissed the ground before he stood up and pumped his arms in victory as the band played on.
His mother, Tracey Hopp, said the day exceeded her expectations.
“It was everything that I envisioned it would be. Our high school football players and cheerleaders were just amazing with their positive support and encouragement of young children with disabilities that they have never met before. Just to see the smiles on the kids’ faces when they’re running down, making touchdowns, it was just heart-melting. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect day,” Hopp said.
She said Port Huron High School has formed a partnership with Woodland Developmental Center as a result of the day’s activities, which Hopp said she would like to continue building over the years.
Contact Syeda Ferguson at (810) 989-6276 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@shossainfe.