Division III soccer team manager with cerebral palsy will play in game
For Kyle Kauffman, cerebral palsy is a hurdle, not a wall. He has a high school diploma, a Facebook account and a dorm room at Stevenson...
The Baltimore Sun
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STEVENSON, Md. — For Kyle Kauffman, cerebral palsy is a hurdle, not a wall.
He has a high school diploma, a Facebook account and a dorm room at Stevenson, where he majors in public history and manages the men's soccer team.
"Soccer is probably the most beautiful sport there is," said Kauffman, of Lancaster, Pa.
But for his physical disability, he would have played the game.
Tuesday night, when Stevenson hosts Hood College, Kauffman will get that chance. To honor their manager, the Division III Mustangs will suit him up, introduce him with the starters and play the 21-year-old senior at forward for the first few minutes of the game.
It's their way of paying tribute to Kauffman, his teammates said.
"After four years here, Kyle has earned every right to be out there, in uniform, representing Stevenson University," said defender Bradley Davis. "His knowledge of soccer is probably better than mine. He's wearing No. 1, which is right, because he's No. 1 in my heart."
Kauffman inspires the Mustangs with his unflagging work ethic, whether it's sorting the team's laundry, inflating balls or setting up cones for practice drills, said sophomore forward Yianni Sarioglou.
"He's a warrior who never complains about his job," said forward Yianni Sarioglou said. "That he's now going to fulfill his dream is awesome.
"He's our Rudy."
For his part, Kauffman is eager to enter the field through the Mustangs' tunnel with its swirling smoke and booming music.
"I just want to play. It doesn't matter if I score," he said. "I just want to be out there running around, being one of the guys.
"That they all wanted this to happen means a lot to me. I've played (the game scenario) out in my head. I've even dreamed about it. I don't remember the specifics, but the dreams always end with a 'W.' "
Stevenson's record is 7-9-1. Hood, which knows of the Mustangs' plans, is 3-9-2.
"This (tribute) is a no-brainer," Hood coach Brian Wall said. "We'd have agreed to this even if there was a playoff berth on the line, because this is what life's all about."
The idea of playing Kauffman started last spring as payback for his contribution to the team, said John Plevyak, Stevenson's sixth-year coach.
"Kyle is one of the kindest, most mentally-tough kids I've met in 27 years of coaching," Plevyak said. "We'll be out there practicing, on a hot day, and nobody's complaining because they see Kyle off on the side, running suicide sprints to get in shape for this one game.
"No one looks at him as disabled. There's no handicap. I mean, you see it, but it's not there because of the way he handles it."
He learned early on that self-pity was no option, Kauffman said.
"I was born this way for some reason," he said. "I don't know what it is yet, but you've got to take what you're given and run with it.
"Am I angry that I'm stuck with (cerebral palsy)? No. But when I see kids who waste the soccer talent they have, I do get mad at them. I won't say so, but I'll think it."
His coach called Kauffman "a student of the sport." Earlier this season, during a coaches' meeting that the manager attended, Plevyak asked him which of the team's four goalies he thought should start in the next game against undefeated Neumann.
"I said, 'Kyle, here's your chance to step up,' " Plevyak said. "Without hesitation, he chose Pat Carey, a sophomore.
"Well, Carey started, we won, 3-1, and Kyle was walking around on cloud nine."
Kauffman's sense of humor was visible from the start, the coach said.
"His freshman year, after a week of practice, we had a team cookout — and Kyle showed up in a kilt, like some Scottish dandy," Plevyak said. "It cracked everybody up."
A year later, Plevyak played a prank on one of his assistants, convincing him that President Barack Obama was on campus and would address the soccer team before a playoff game.
"We were all sitting in the locker room, clapping because someone announced that the President was in the building — and around the corner came Kyle, wearing an Obama face mask," senior midfielder Ryan Pierce said. "Kyle is that kind of a character, and a pleasure to be around."
Off the field, Kauffman eats meals with the players in the dining hall and hangs out with them off-campus.
"They are my second family," he said. "We're a brotherhood. I'll be there for any of the guys in the locker room, no matter what. We'll have each others' backs for the rest of our lives."
Players said they won't forget Kauffman.
"His parents told us they were glad that we had taken him in," Pierce said. "But, really, it was Kyle who took us in."