By Lauren Fellmeth
Courtney Burrell’s dream came true on Friday, August 20, when he became a member of the North Rockland (New York) High School football team.
Burrell, 14, suffers from cerebral palsy, a debilitating, chronic condition that affects body movement and muscle coordination. Even though his disability does not allow him to play on the field, Burrell remains a strong and active figure in the North Rockland football program.
Burrell attends meetings, practice sessions and games, and helps head coach Joe Casarella with scheduling and other office work. Burrell also brings water to his fellow Red Raiders using a device that is attached to his wheelchair.
As quoted by USA Today, Burrell’s mother Joey Jenkins said, “I’m beyond glad, I’m ecstatic. He’s been waiting for this a long time. Now he can be with men, experience male bonding, learn responsibility and team spirit.”
Michelle Brown, Burrell’s service coordinator at Jawonio, a center dedicated to advancing the independence, well-being and equality of people with disabilities or special needs, helped Burrell realize his dream of making the football team.
Jenkins had previously mentioned how passionate Burrell was about sports and how she wished her son could be part of a team.
Luckily for Burrell and Jenkins, Brown went to Casarella and explained the situation. Brown has children who also played for coach Casarella in high school. Brown and Casarella worked out a way for Burrell to be a member of the team.
“A lot of kids don’t live up to their potential,” Casarella said to USA Today. “When they see people who work hard to get up, it sets a good example.”
In North Rockland’s season opener with New Rochelle (New York) High School, Burrell served as honorary captain. Despite the Red Raiders’ 14-7 loss, Burrell was still a positive figure on the field.
“His heart is as big as anybody on our team,” Casarella said to Bloomberg, “You wake up every morning and, if you don’t give 100 percent, stop and think of Courtney.”
Lauren Fellmeth is a fall semester intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. She is a recent graduate of Elon (North Carolina) University with a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Communications and Spanish.