A high school football program that can boast 11 section titles in the last 17 years and 10 straight state championships visits could easily become an exclusive club for “elite” athletes. But that’s not the case for the Rebels of Moose Lake, Minnesota whose first aim is to make their team a “family” of athletes.
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With an inclusive vision in mind, the Rebels coaching staff tries to find positions for any students who have a love for the game – even a student who is in a wheelchair. Danny Lilya is one of those students. He was born with a broken back caused by an early spinal defect. The complication bound him to a wheelchair… seemingly ending any hopes of competitive high school sports.
But due to the support of Rebel teammates and coaches, he has been become “one of the guys”. Lilya has found his niche – he is now the Rebels’ holder for extra points and field goals.
“Nobody really thinks that you can play football while disabled,”Danny said. “But here we are now.â€
Danny said the idea came from a friend who suggested he become the holder and Danny loved the idea.
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, I can do that,’”Danny recounted his conversation with his friend. “Talked to the coach about it, and he liked the idea.â€
“Part of Rebel football has always been including everybody,”Coach Dave Louzek said. “And we’ve had a lot of kids as a part of our program that have been what other places would consider non-athletes. We really try and create a family atmosphere here.â€
Even though Danny doesn’t see the field every game because the small team runs mostly two-point conversions, Danny enjoys every opportunity he gets to be in the game.
“When you finally do get in, it’s just the best feeling in the world,”Danny said, “being able to finally be part of a team that accepts you and likes you for who you are.â€
Danny has wise words for anyone with a disability:
“A wheelchair doesn’t define you,”Danny said. “If you want to do something but you’re disabled, if you have the right mindset you can still go out there and do it.â€
We couldn’t agree more. Watch below and share Danny’s touching inspiration today!
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