Family

A Gridiron Sight to Behold

Terminally ill mother gets to see her son live out a dream

In high school sports, sometimes real wins come when the clock isn’t running.

During the second quarter of Friday night’s football game between Novi High School in Novi, Michigan, and rivals South Lyon East, play was suspended — right on cue. It was time for Robby Heil to take the field.

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Heil, a senior at Novi who has Down syndrome, has been a Wildcat for all four of his high school years, serving as a water boy and team manager.

Just like he practiced, Heil took a handoff from the QB, sprinting down the gridiron for a touchdown.

Although it doesn’t count on the scoreboard, it was a win for everyone who was there — especially for Robby Heil’s mom, Debbie Heil. She has been a Novi football team photographer for the last four years so she could keep tabs on her son, according to The Detroit News. She is now ill with terminal bone cancer.

“He got the full feeling of being a football player,” said the head coach.

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The mom was overcome as she saw her son live out a dream with the help of two teams that worked together to make it all happen. The opposing team, South Lyon East, even presented Robby Heil with a number “1” team jersey.

“This is something that we thought we could do to bring some joy, hopefully some outstanding memories,” Novi head coach Jeff Burnside told Detroit ABC affiliate WXYZ.

Burnside made sure Heil was prepared for his moment, working him out all week to be ready when he was called into play.

“He got the full feeling of being a football player this week,” Burnside told The Detroit News. “I put his butt in pads and I got after him a couple of times and made him do down-ups. I assure you, he got the full feeling.”

The South Lyon East team was happy to be part of the experience, too.

“Jeff called me and said he wanted to put something past me, talked about how Robby had been the water boy the past couple of years, wears a uniform with shoulder pads during games and delivers the water to the team — how he loves the game of football and everything with it,” head coach Joe Pesci told The Detroit News.

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“He said it would mean a lot to him and his mom. It would be special if he could get a carry,” said Pesci. “I told my team and they were extremely excited about making this kid’s night and have the opportunity to have a little fun out there.”

“You mean a lot to this team. I’m serious, you’re a big part of this,” fellow senior Anthony D’annibale said on the sidelines to Robby Heil, right before his big moment, according to WXYZ.

The boy’s teammates and the South Lyon team celebrated after the play.

Debbie Heil said she was speechless after seeing her son score a touchdown.

“I dropped to the ground because I was so emotional when I saw him make that touchdown,” Debbie Heil told WXYZ. “I’ve always been proud of him being the water boy, or as people call him, ‘the hydration manager,’ but this was incredible. He’s Rudy tonight. He’s Rudy.”

She was referring to Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who most Americans know from a popular film based on his life. The boy didn’t have a prayer of playing football for Notre Dame, but finally, after tremendous struggle, he had his shot at the gridiron — supported by all the players.

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