“Now entering the game at running back for the Bearkits, number 49, Evan Goree.”
This declaration by Ruston Junior High football public announcer Mark Cramer stirred the echoes of the on-looking crowd.
Even though the RJHS Bearkits were trailing Westridge Junior High by several touchdowns, the undisputed star of the game made his widely anticipated appearance.
Lining up at running back, Goree took a handoff and raced around the right flank for an 80-yard touchdown. But it didn’t stop there.
After the score, Goree again received the pigskin and powered into the end zone for the two-point conversion.
Pandemonium ensued. The crowd exploded with excitement and a star was born.
A 13-year-old eighth grader at Ruston Junior High, Goree has Down Syndrome. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, Down Syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.
However, this condition does not hinder him from enjoying school or athletics in the least bit.
Nor did it lessen announcer Cramer’s enthusiam in making sure that Goree was the focal point of the event.
“I introduced Evan and called the play as it happened,” Cramer said. “All I wanted to do was report the action, not be the action. There was a standing ovation from every person at the ballgame and everybody continued to stand through the conversion as well.”
Vince Lombardi was quoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” While that is often the case, Evan Goree showed that there is more to athletic competition than just the outcome of the game.
“This is what sports are all about. It’s not about meeting the expectations of parents or coaches but enjoying the purity of the game,” Cramer said.
Goree isn’t your prototypical athlete. He’s so much more than just a football player.
Goree is a running back, a student and an inspiration. He is a champion and provides motivation for men, women and children alike.
As a student manager for the eighth grade team, Goree provides a major contribution to the football program.
“Football is my favorite sport,” Goree said. “I want to help the Bearcat (Ruston High School) program next year as well.”
Glen Kyle, head coach of RJHS’s eighth grade football team talked about Goree’s dedication to the Bearkits.
“Evan is a Bearkit through and through,” Kyle said. “We took him under our wing. He is a great, loveable kid and our entire team loves having him with us.”
Kyle also spoke about the significance that the experience had on his coaching career.
“This was undoubtedly the best moment of my life in coaching,” he said. “The fans from both Ruston and Westridge were going berserk.”
Although Goree knew in advance of his opportunity to take the field, the reaction it would receive was unexpected.
“He was a rock star after the game,” Kyle said. “After the game, everybody wanted a picture with Evan. He even got kisses from the cheerleaders.”
When asked about the smooches he received from the cheerleaders, Goree beamed with pride.
Goree, grinning ear to ear, described the public displays of affection in one powerful word, “Awesome.”
Friends, families and common fans in attendance were not the only folks inspired by Goree’s memorable performance.
Local photojournalist Kevin Beasley was on hand for the spectacle and captured the excitement with his artistic photography.
“I noticed that the moral of the Bearkits seemed to be down in the dumps due to the tally on the scoreboard,” he said. “But I noticed some of the players who were huddled up immediately had a change in expression. I knew something was up.”
At the beginning of the second half, Goree, dressed out in full pads, led the Bearkits back onto the field of play.
“There was magic in the air like something big was about to happen,” Beasley added. “I paid special attention to Evan throughout the entire second half and was more than rewarded.”
As splendid of an event as Goree’s performance on the gridiron was, the story doesn’t end there.
Upon hearing of Evan’s triumph, the Tech football team invited Goree to attend practice. While there, he was able to watch practice in addition to meeting several players and coaches.
As an added bonus, Evan was given a blue number 49 Tech jersey. The number 49 holds a special place in Goree’s heart, as it was the high school number of his older brother Eric, a linebacker who starred at Ruston High School.
When Evan arrived at Tech’s football game Saturday night, he sported his jersey with tremendous satisfaction. Like a kid on Christmas morning, he soaked in the sights and sounds of Joe Aillet Stadium.
When Goree was asked who his favorite Tech player was he quickly answered, “Kentrell Brice.”
Brice, a freshman defensive back from Ruston, was a teammate of Evan’s brother Eric while at RHS.
Maria Goree, Evans’s mother, spoke about the whirlwind of events that had taken place in their family.
“Because of his situation, we often have to be patient with everyday things,” she said. “These past few weeks have been a blessing for Evan and our family and we are so thankful to the community and Tech for showing so much love to Evan.”
Email comments to jmt...@latech.edu.