Originally Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2012, 11:02 pm
Last Updated: Oct. 19, 2012, 7:58 am

Special needs students suit up with Augie football players

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By Leon Lagerstam llagerstam@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Augustana College quarterback Nick Welch helps students from the Black Hawk Area Education District into the team's jerseys during their visit with the college football team on Thursday. Mr. Welch and his teammate Erik Westerberg got the idea to invite about a dozen students to join their team for a day after taking a class field trip where they met the boys.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Students from the Black Hawk Area Education District join Nick Krantz, right, and other members of the Augustana College football team on the field in Rock Island on Thursday. About a dozen boys spent the afternoon as members of the Vikings' squad wearing the team's uniforms and running for touchdowns.

ROCK ISLAND Excessive celebration by football players at Augustana College's Ericson Field Thursday couldn't be ignored, but drew no penalties only cheers, laughs and huge smiles.


A dozen students from the Black Hawk Area Education Center were given the chance to suit up in shoulder pads, uniforms and helmets in traditional Augie blue and gold,and try their football throwing and kicking skills.

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Several also tried out their best touchdown dance displays.

''How could you throw any penalty flag on that excessive celebration,'' said Erik Westerberg, 20, an Augustana College junior and Academic All-American, majoring in education and mathematics.

'We made those kids' days,'' said quarterback Nick Welch, 22, a senior secondary education major.

Inviting the special education students to Augie'sfootball stadium was part of a ''performance capstone program,'' related to their education majors, and an emphasis on inclusion models.

Mr. Westerberg and Mr. Welch persuaded 11 teammates to join them and their 12 special visitors.

Kids were given a locker room tour, and spent time being introduced and introducing each other to the college players. Then, they got to try on pads, uniforms and helmets before taking the field.

it was the first time Gerald Carter, 13, ever was on a college football field or visited a college, he said. He had some football experience, playing in Challenger Football games sponsored by the Moline High School football program.

He said his Augieuniform fit well.''I like it, and I like to play football.''

He wasn't alone.

''This is great,'' said Dave Brown, vocational coordinator at the education center. ''All of them have the biggest smiles on their faces.

''This was a unique opportunity for them,'' Mr. Brown said. ''It was exciting to bring them here, because it's an experience they otherwise may never have gotten to enjoy.''

"I'm sure they'll remember this for a long time to come,'' Mr. Welch said.

''It was a very special day for us, too,'' Mr. Westerbergsaid. ''It feels incredible. We feel so blessed."

They handed out key chains to each visiting student that read: "What have you done to win today?"

''And they did win today, and will continue to win even in the circumstances they find themselves in,'' Mr. Westerberg said.

Many touchdowns were scored Thursday, and countless field goals were ruled good, albeit with help from Augie players who scooped up missed kicks and lobbed them through the uprights while cheering on each special-team's kicker.

It was hard sometimes to tell the difference between the college guys and their younger guests, in terms of enthusiasm, energy and touchdown-dance ''skills.''

''That was tight,'' one of the younger students was overheard saying as he left Ericson Field. ''I love this place.''

And his college hosts said they loved all the celebrations he and his friends shared with them Thursday.