By Raiza Giorgi
The Santa Ynez Pirates won a football game, 49-12, against the Santa Maria Saints on Sept. 29, but both teams came away with a big win for sportsmanship.
As a team manager, Alec Watson has always felt that he is a part of the Pirate football team. However, his coaches and team members decided they wanted to do something more to honor his great love of the sport.
At the home game on Sept. 29, Alec got to suit up and not only run onto the field with his teammates but also to run the ball on the first play of the game.
“This made me feel great, and there was a lot of hard work by both coaches to let me do this,” Alec said on the sidelines after that first play.
His teammates and opponents all cheered for him as he walked off the field with shouts of “You got this, Alec.”
Watson, 19, was born with a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. Before he was a year old he had gone through two open heart surgeries, his mother, Leanne Watson said.
“We have been talking about this since last spring, and it was just as meaningful for both teams because they were emotionally involved and it impacted everyone in a positive way. … Two opposite teams shared a common goal,” said SYHS Coach Josh McClurg.
McClurg said when he contacted the Saints coach, Dan Ellington, that he came back right away to pledge his team’s support.
“We gave them our first play so they knew how to counter and make sure that Alec didn’t get hurt,” McClurg said.
The night of the game Watson didn’t know how to put on his pads so his teammates stepped in to help him.
The Pirates players helped Alec practice the week before the game. He said he didn’t want the first play to be something automatic where he would get the ball and just run into the end zone. He wanted to earn it.
On the night of the game he didn’t know how to put on his pads, so his teammates helped him with that, too.
“My husband was MVP for his football team senior year, and seeing him practice with Alec the past few weeks, and watching him seeing his son run onto that field and make the play, was probably the highlight of our lives,” Leanne Watson said through tears of joy.
Any parent would feel that same, she said, knowing that their child loved something so much but couldn’t participate due to a disability.
“All you want for your kids is to feel loved and supported and accomplish their dreams. This moment was all that wrapped up in one amazing ball. Hearing people chanting his name and cheering, I know we all won’t forget that night,” his mother said.
The support didn’t end there, either.
In an interview with KSBY television, Alec mentioned that he fell in love with football at 8 years old while watching a Brigham Young University game. He also said that BYU’s quarterback at the time, John Beck, was his inspiration.
The video somehow found its way to Beck, who retired from professional football in 2015 after playing for the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans.
“John called the SY athletic department and they gave him my number. It made Alec’s life that he talked to him and now they are friends. The widespread love and gratitude we have for our community to make this all happen is amazing. This is what our valley is about; it’s about uplifting and supporting one another,” Leanna Watson said.
“This is the epitome of coaching, using sports to create amazing community members that are thoughtful, grateful, caring, and make the game worth playing win or lose,” she added.