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Rivals give athlete gift of a lifetime

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Hayden Smith, who has to wear special braces to walk due to bilateral calcaneal valgus, has dressed for two games this season for the Sierra Middle School Eagles.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Fans celebrate touchdown scored by special needs middle schooler
If fans returned late from halftime Tuesday at DeBremond Stadium, they missed perhaps the biggest feel-good moment in Roswell middle school football history.

The Sierra Eagles opened the second half with a 13-0 lead over the Mesa Panthers.

Sierra sent Hayden Smith back to receive the kickoff. As the ball floated into the arms of another Eagle player, he quickly tossed it back to Hayden, who took off down the middle of the field, zagged down to the left sideline and took it to the house. The whole stadium erupted in wild celebration over the score.

What made the touchdown special was Hayden, the second of twins, who was born prematurely with a birth defect, and who weighed only 1 pound and 11 ounces.

Hayden was diagnosed with bilateral calcaneal valgus (where the tops of his feet turned up and out, and touched his calves). With the help of Carrie Tingley Hospital in Albuquerque, he wears braces on both feet to help him walk.

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Hayden was told he could never play tackle football, but that did not stop his desire to be part of his middle school football team. Since he couldn’t play, Hayden did the next best thing, he volunteered to serve as a water boy for the Sierra Middle School Eagles football team.

As Hayden was running toward the goal line, his brother, Ian, and step-brother, Jeff David, were cheering him on and feeling proud. Both brothers play on the Eagles’ squad. In the stands on her feet was Hayden’s proud mother, Christina Ortega.

“That was a huge play for my little miracle,” Ortega said. “I would like to extend my gratitude to coach Gary Thorne of Sierra Middle School and Kevin Fresquez of Mesa Middle School, and to all the players from both teams. Furthermore, to the cheerleaders from Sierra, and all the cheering fans in the stands that cheered for us and with us.”

With moments like this, the players and coaches in Roswell showed a heart as big as their desire to win. For one day, Hayden could feel what it’s like to get into a game, to be a real football player playing on special teams, and to score a touchdown.

Hayden has dressed for two games this season. With his fearlessness and thirst for life, and the support of his family, friends and the city of Roswell behind him, nothing is impossible for him.

The touchdown did not count on the scoreboard, but what the coaches and the players gave to Hayden and his family cannot be measured in any other way but smiles, gratitude and a lifetime of memories.