A show of sportsmanship was made by Masuk and New Milford high schools’ teams, before their football game under the lights of Benedict Stadium Field last Friday night. The Panthers’ offense took the field and lined up across from the New Milford Green Wave’s defense, 40 yards away from the end zone.
The PA announcer told the crowd number 61, James Dutkowsky, was lined up in Masuk’s backfield. James, a senior who has Down syndrome, made the first on-field appearance of his career on Senior Night.
Panthers quarterback Robert Klein took the snap and handed the ball to James, who carefully ran toward the line of scrimmage and between his blockers, before speeding up after getting past New Milford’s defenders.
The crowd cheered and the announcer raised his voice with excitement during James’ breakaway run. Teammates running behind him raised their arms in triumph.
James, surrounded by his teammates after scoring a touchdown, turned around and spiked the football in the end zone, then flexed while letting out a celebratory yell.
“Yeah!” he shouted, pumping his fist as he ran toward the home sideline.
“It took a lot to get to that night,” his mother, Lisa Dutkowsky, said in a telephone interview Saturday. “In a lot of ways, we’ve been at this a long time: inclusion in an organized sport. I think last night was important on a lot of levels.”
Though he will turn 18 this December, Dutkowsky said her son’s intellectual disability puts him at an elementary school level at times.
“We really are dealing with a little boy at times and making him feel wanted and included is a huge part of his life,” she said, adding of his moment on Senior Night, “he’s still talking about it. For him, a moment like this, he’ll remember forever. He remembers a lot and he’s very aware of what goes on in his life. He’ll remember this forever. I know he will.”
A love of football
James was influenced by his two older brothers, who played youth football on the Monroe Lions growing up.
“James was lucky enough to get onto a flag football team for the Monroe Lions and had a few coaches that really made him love the game,” Dutkowsky said. “The standouts were Rick Henderson, Jason Batch and JJ McGee. Those early coaches paid a lot of attention to James and he just fell in love with the game when he was a younger kid under these coaches.”
It all culminated in James’ big moment, scoring a touchdown on the special play last Friday.
“I’m grateful to both Masuk and New Milford for making this happen for James, because they made a little boy very happy,” Dutkowsky said. “He’s been looking forward to his Senior football night since he was nine-years-old.”
Dutkowsky praised both athletic directors, who organized the event, and both sets of coaches and players for their involvement in making the special play happen for Friday’s game.
“Our principal Steve Swensen was really excited about it, and our Superintendent Joe Kobza, James’ former coach, was very excited it was happening,” Dutkowsky said.
‘I did it mom!’
James walked along the sideline with his proud father, Steve Dutkowsky, after the special play. Steve watched the touchdown from the sidelines, while his wife watched the play unfold in the stands.
“I think it’s great,” Steve said of the play. “It shows the love of the Masuk family and the Monroe community to give James an opportunity to score a touchdown on Senior Night. He’s been playing football since the Monroe Lions. This is a big night for him, and I think to have both the Masuk team and the New Milford team allow him to do something is just a show of love and support.”
“I was elated,” Lisa Dutkowsky said of watching James carry the ball. “I was just so happy that he was happy. I was sitting with a few of my best friends and I was crying and I was screaming. We were all crying and screaming his name.”
Dutkowsky said the PA announcer’s call added a level of excitement to the moment.
“The most important thing that it accomplished last night is that it brought him joy,” Dutkowsky said of her son. “As a parent, whether you have a special needs child or a typical child, you want your child to experience joy and happiness.”
Dutkowsky said James’ teammates are incredibly talented and able to find that joy and success on their own, but she and her husband have had to work a little harder to make that happen for James.
“He was so excited. This is why I work as hard as I do as a special needs mom to make him happy,” Dutkowsky said. “He kept yelling up at the stands to me, ‘I did it mom! I did it!’ For the entire first half he kept doing that and it just made us all happy.”
Below is a video of the special play that Lisa Dutkowsky took from the stands:
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