Local HS student with Down syndrome suits up for football game

KNOX, Ind. (WNDU) --- For a team with a winning record -- with only one loss this season, and even that to last year's state champions -- winning isn't the end goal for the Knox High School football team.

“We want them to be good husbands; we want them to be good fathers; we want them to be productive members in the community," head coach John Hendryx emphasized.

His team has become good friends to the best team member who may never get time in a game.

“Everyone treats him like he's another football player, teammate,” freshman Dominick Lovins said.

A senior at Knox High School, 20-year-old Jared Holt has Down syndrome. His grandmother, Dr. Theresa Catlett, a retired Starke County physician, earned permanent custody of Jared and his younger brother, Caleb, in 2013. Fourteen at the time, Jared weighed only 37 pounds and was 41 inches tall.

“He really had a tough time in foster care. His physical condition deteriorated while he was in foster care. And so, it was a little scary,” Catlett said.

In the first 3 1/2 years with his grandmother, Jared grew about a foot, thanks to a stable home environment. He's now a little less than 100 pounds. He still deals with other health problems, including diabetes and significant hearing loss, but none of them interfere with his love for the game of football.

“His grandma had contacted me early in the season, might have been before we even played a game, and she talked to me about it,” Hendryx recalled.

Catlett had heard of other teams allowing students with special needs to suit up for a game. She knew it would be a dream for Jared.

“I thought, ‘You know, why not ask?’ If you don't ask, you don't know,” she said.

On Friday, Sept. 20, Jared dressed in a Knox football uniform for the homecoming game against John Glenn. He served as an honorary captain and was carried off the field following the team’s win.

“He couldn't control what happened to him. You know, we -- we got blessed with what we have. And we're going to make it the same way for him,” said Conner Alexander, Jared’s cousin and a sophomore on the football team.

Homecoming was also memorable for senior football player Koy Wagner.

“It was special for me because it kind of gives you a different, different view because we're, we're all gifted, and Jared doesn't have that ability to come out and play. So, it's really cool for my last year to be able to give somebody the gift to come out on the field and just have that experience of what homecoming is like,” Wagner said.

Jared is indisputably a gift to the entire Knox community.

“If he was different, if he – if he didn't have special needs, that would definitely change everything. And I wouldn't like that to happen. I would just like him to be the way he is,” said Caleb Prescott, Jared’s younger brother.

Jared teaches people how to live a full life.

“Everybody has a little bit of an agenda of what they want to see happen or what they expect out of life for and what they're doing,” Cartlett explained. “And Jared doesn't have an agenda. Jared is just happy to be. And he wants everybody else to be happy too. And that's magic. That's magic. Because when you take away your agenda and you just learn to be, it's just – it’s freedom. It's magic. It's beautiful.”

It’s how you really win in life.