All Garnets can make a difference by voting for Rye student TJ Neeves for USA Football’s Heart Of A Giant award. The award program seeks to highlight Tri-State high school athletes or other designated student team members who demonstrate that extra something special – “the ones that have a relentless work ethic and unmatched love for the game”.
TJ Neeves is an almost 16 year old boy who was born with a severe intellectual disability. Despite his intellectual disability it does not stop him from wanting to be just like any other normal kid. TJ’s father pushed for him to be involved in football, and with a little help from Rye football coach Dino Garr, TJ is now part of the JV football team.
Nominated for the Heart Of A Giant award by the Rye Athletic Department TJ loves to lead the team in his “touch down moment” at every game. “He may not fully realize it but he is inspiring inclusion and kindness in not only his teammates, but those on the opposing team and as he runs down that field toward the goal line,” Rye Athletics said in its award submission.
You can read TJ’s story and the full nomination submitted by Rye Athletics below. The Grand Prize Winner will receive a $10,000 equipment grant for his or her high school.
TJ has been in physical therapy his whole life and has faced many physical challenges – but he LOVES physical activity and shows up with a smile even when he can’t quite master the skills needed for the task. He always has the WILL to keep trying – over and over again and just never gives up. With a few encouraging words from his coaches or teammates – he picks up the ball and tries again.
TJ is the only son of a Dad who had two very artsy, non-athletic daughters before him. TJ’s Dad – Tom – played every single sport you can imagine. Hockey, basketball, softball, lacrosse – you name it and Tom played it and had the gear for it in his garage. Tom was so excited when at the ultrasound he found out he was finally having a boy – he was over the moon to finally carry on his sports legacy. When TJ’s mom was about 5 month pregnant with TJ – his Dad got into an accident and became permanently paralyzed in a wheelchair. Then TJ was born with a severe intellectual disability. This series of events shattered the sports dreams for both Tom and TJ. Tom struggled to learn to live life in a wheelchair while TJ struggled both intellectually and physically but as the years went on they both learned to adapt and thrive and when the opportunity came up for TJ to play a team sport – Tom really pushed for TJ to play football because our Rye football team had such a positive following in our community and what better way for TJ to take center stage and be immersed in the community than to be a part of the football team. Not to mention the fact that Tom had a little history with the Rye High School Football Coach – Coach Garr – they were former softball teammates from before Tom’s accident. Maybe at first, Tom was living a little vicariously through his son – but as soon as TJ put that uniform on, he was all smiles and he really loved the game and the sense of belonging it gave him to be part of the team.
TJ has had to grow up not only with a severe intellectual disability himself that comes with many challenges, but also with a father in a wheel chair – so all the “normal” things a father and son could do together had to be reinvented. When TJ was younger – there were less opportunities for him to be part of “regular” sports teams – so being part of the Rye JV Football Team has been a truly inspiring experience.
When TJ and his Dad are on the sidelines of the game waiting for TJ’s “touch down” play – it literally “levels the playing field” – all their disabilities disappear and the only thing people see on the sidelines of that game are a father and son bonding over football.
TJ loves to lead the team in his “touch down moment” at every game – he may not fully realize it but he is inspiring inclusion and kindness in not only his teammates, but those on the opposing team and as he runs down that field toward the goal line
TJ loves being part of the Rye community and welcoming other students with disabilities and is always there to greet you will a smile.
TJ is the first one to lead his classmates in any endeavor – he is a strong an confident young man, despite the challenges he faces daily, he faces each day with love and positivity.
He is on track to try and get his high school diploma. His intellectual capacity might make it hard for him to achieve this goal but he is trying his best.
TJ gets a “touch down” at every game – while these may not be traditional athletic stats – the overwhelming outpouring of inclusion and kindness make this his best athletic achievement.
In additional to his time on the field TJ is takes very good care of his three-leg Alaskan Malamute and is an avid horseback rider and skateboarder. TJ also has a sister that goes to University of Wisconsin and he enjoys attending big ten football games with her.