'He's just a big part of this community': PBL High School senior diagnosed with autism serving as volunteer coach, inspiration for youth football team

PAXTON -- Practices started getting more noisy for the Paxton-Buckley-Loda Youth Football Seniors team last Monday.
 
The extra noise comes from a PBL High School senior-to-be who says, through his mother, Debbie Sage, that he "likes to tell the boys to move."
 
"During running drills, it's nice to have somebody else yell at the kids other than me, (head) coach (Jim) Hobson and some of us coaches," PBL Seniors coach Jason Hutchcraft said. "He gets after them, too.”
 
Before he started yelling at an entire team, Dazé Spencer planned on yelling at one member of the team in particular -- Eben Cahill.
 
Spencer knew Cahill through his mother, Betsy Cahill, who was Spencer's aide in special educaton teacher Lisa Allen's class.
 
"On Monday, (Aug. 6,) we decided that we were going to spend the day with Dazé," Betsy Cahill said. "He kept asking Eben what he was going to do, and Eben said, 'I'm going to football, and I have to run a lot.' Dazé said, 'I'm going to make you run more.'”
 
The conversation prompted Spencer's desire to serve as a volunteer coach for the PBL Youth Football Seniors team.
 
Betsy Cahill talked to Hutchcraft -- who also serves as the PBL Youth Football organization's president -- about letting Spencer coach.
 
“He said, 'No problem. Bring him on,' and he's been out here every day since with the boys, and he's having a blast at it," Cahill said. “The football boys run a lot during practice. They run around the fields and stuff, and they run drills and stuff like that, and Dazé just wanted to be a part of it. 
 
"He wanted to be out there with Eben, and he wanted to help coach, and he wanted to just be a part of it. They just took him in. They had no issues whatsoever, and they literally were just so accepting. They love it. They love him being out here with him, and Dazé is having an amazing time.”
 
“Betsy came and talked to us and asked if Dazé can help us out. Anytime a kid comes to us and wants to be a part of our youth football family, you welcome him with open arms," Hutchcraft added. "He's one of the guys.”
 
Spencer was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 1/2 years old. 
 
He moved to Paxton from Naperville before entering his eighth-grade year.
 
“We live in a great community that had welcomed him. I was really scared to have him come to this community because I grew up here and I went to school here," Sage said. "Then coming here, he said he wanted to go to school here, and I said, 'Fine, we'll try it out.' The community here has just been very great to him. They welcome him. They all say hey to him. It's just great overall.”
 
The community's love for Spencer was on display at the last two PBL homecoming parades, according to Sage.
 
Last year, Zach Vaughn of the Loda Fire Department granted Spencer's wish to ride in the parade. He gave Spencer a T-shirt from the LPD and let him ride with the fire department in the parade.
 
“He wanted to be in the homecoming parade, and Zach made it happen," Sage said.
 
During Spencer's sophomore year, those who rode in the parade showed their recognition of him. 
 
“The football team was yelling for Dazé," Sage said. "The volleyball team and the cheerleaders were all yelling for Dazé.”
 
Spencer's popularity at PBL High School is no surprise to Betsy Cahill.
 
“He's just a big part of this community," Cahill said. "He's infectious.”
 
Less than a week into his time as volunteer coach, Spencer is becoming popular among his team as well.
 
“It's great. He's usually good for a laugh or two," Hutchcraft said. "He'll throw out a question that you're not ready for. It keeps you on your toes. It's great. He'll help me pick up bags and stuff in between drills. He actually helps. It's good for the kids. He likes to yell at them and get after them. 
 
“We're all here to make some sort of a difference, one way or another, and if him being on the field is making a difference for him, and he's enjoying it, that's what this organization is about – making sure the kids are having a good time, and he's one of them.”
 
“The big thing is he's having a good time out here, and we like seeing him have a good time," Hobson added. "He wants to be a part of the program, and we want him to be a part of it.”
 
According to Hutchcraft, Spencer is learning some aspects of coaching.
 
"Last night, he was helping me call my defenses and switching them from a 3-3 to a 3-4, so he's getting down some of the terminology, too. He'll holler it out whenever I say it," Hutchcraft said. "It's fun. It's good for him, and it's good for us.”
 
In turn, Spencer is serving as an inspiration to the youth players -- in more ways than one. 
 
“He's really inspirational to these kids," Betsy Cahill said. "He's yelling, 'Come on, you can do it. I know you can do it.' He has that heart in him that everybody loves.”
 
"He is helping them understand what autism really is -- that he really is no different from them," added Tim Cahill, Eben's father.
Categories (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports

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