| Sunday, November 10, 2002

Jake Porter's emotional story has gripped the Southern Ohio region

Download and watch the video clip from the game.

By JAMES WALKER - The Herald-Dispatch

McDERMOTT, Ohio -- Northwest football coach Dave Frantz should have listened to Liz Porter's motherly instincts years ago.

Perhaps he would have been better prepared for the frenzy that's currently taking place.

"It was about three years ago," Frantz recalled. "She said One day, with Jake's personality, he's going to make national news. And when this happens, I want everybody to know how great Southern Ohio is to embrace Jake and take him in as one of their own.' It was like she scripted it."

Tim Johnson/The Herald-Dispatch

Northwest High School player Jake Porter has scored the touchdown heard around the world.

As predicted, Liz's son, Jake Porter, has become a household name over the last three weeks. The 17 year old was born with "Chromosomal Fragile-X," which is the leading cause of inherited mental retardation.

But with the help of two coaches, 21 players, and a dash of the human spirit, Porter of Northwest High School was granted the memory of a lifetime when he ran for a 49-yard touchdown in the game's waning moments against Waverly High School.

Although he had practiced everyday with the team, Porter had only taken a knee in one other game because of his physical condition.

Both Frantz and coach Derek DeWitt of Waverly agreed beforehand to let Porter come in and do the same at end of this ballgame. But with Waverly leading 42-0 in the fourth quarter, DeWitt and his team opted to abandon the shutout for the sake of sportsmanship.

It was a rare breath of fresh air in a year that's been difficult for all Americans.

The timing was perfect. The deed was even better. And once the story circulated, it didn't take long for our nation to rejoice.

"I think that's why people are captivated by this story," Northwest Superintendent Bob Ralstin said. "In this day and age with so much negative news, we as a nation need these types of things to restore our faith in the human (race)."

"It's amazing how far-reaching it's been," Liz Porter said. "We all get caught up in the business and sadness of life, and we sometimes forget what's really important. There's just so many more good things out there if we just look."

Jake's Acceptance

"If you say Jake -- he may not be the only Jake in the school -- but everybody knows who you're talking about." -- Northwest coach Dave Frantz

Porter's touchdown run against Waverly wasn't the beginning. It was just a continuation of a comfortable environment the school district had already provided.

The district is one of the few in Scioto County that houses mentally disabled kids from the elementary level up, which Ralstin says helps kids learn to mesh with others that are a little bit different from them at an early age.

Porter's family came to McDermott from Dayton, Ohio when Jake was 13. By the time he reached high school, he was already one of the school's most popular kids.

As a freshman, the homecoming queen got to choose her escort to the big dance. She picked Jake.

Two years ago as a sophomore, star running back Doug Montavon took Porter under his wing, and the two quickly became good friends.

Porter was mentored by Montavon, who during his senior year set the single season rushing record for the Mohawks, and he ended up helping teach Porter how to tie his shoes and write his name in the process.

Montavon currently plays football for Glenville State in West Virginia, but the two still call each other on a regular basis.

Frantz said if anyone deserved to see Jake's memorable moment, it was Montavon.

"I really hate that he didn't get to see Jake score, because Doug was very instrumental in bringing him along at the high school level," Frantz said. "Wherever he was, Jake was."

"I'd give anything to see that tape, just to see his reaction," Montavon said. "I know we (Northwest) lost by 40. But after that, I bet it felt like we won by 50."

Instant Celebrity

"Everybody feels connected to it." -- Liz Porter

What started out as an innocent meeting between two coaches at a Park and Ride bus station, quickly became national news.

"Only in Southern Ohio," Frantz utters.

Porter's touchdown run took place on Oct. 18, and by the following week, local newspapers and television stations were calling to get a hold of both coaches.

Tim Johnson/The Herald-Dispatch

Jake Porter has some great sportsmanship footsteps to follow with his coach Dave Frantz.

A column in The Herald-Dispatch sparked a response from radio stations, newspapers, and television stations from across the country. The Porter story was also widely circulated throughout the internet.

Porter's run was aired at halftime of the Nov. 2 Ohio State-Minnesota game, and the showing of good sportsmanship has been featured on everything from "The Sports Reporters" to "The Jim Rome Show."

A wave of e-mails and letters have flooded both coaches and the Porter household since, and everywhere Jake goes, he is the talk of Southern Ohio.

"It makes the world seem so much smaller and so much more connected," Liz Porter said of all the attention. "Everywhere people know about it. It's really interesting to see how people heard of the story."

Professional sports organizations such as the Oakland Raiders and Memphis Grizzlies have also extended its congratulations.

If they ever decide to visit the Oakland area, Raiders representative Amy Trask has already offered players and coaches from both teams to be their honorary guest during any home game. And last week, Steve Becvar of the Grizzlies front office mailed in Jake's first present of the holiday season.

"Steve Becvar contacted us after hearing about it on the Mike and Mike (ESPN Radio) Show," Frantz explained. "And the next thing you know, Jake had a signed photograph of Jerry West."

But you'd be surprised what Porter's biggest fascination with the media has been thus far. He has a liking for microphones and tape recorders, and often likes to hold it himself while being interviewed.

It's Jake's way of being comfortable and in control of a situation he's normally not use to.

"I've got to buy me one of those," Jake Porter said.

"It's already on his Christmas list now," Liz Porter added.

About Fragile-X

"It gives our kids a sense of being thankful for what they have." -- Northwest Superintendent of Schools Bob Ralstin

Chromosomal Fragile-X, also known as Fragile-X Syndrome, is a gene that is prevalent in approximately 1-in-3,000 men and 1-in-4,000 women. But perhaps the most alarming statistic is that 1-in-250 women carry the gene and many don't even know it.

Jeffrey Cohen of the National Fragile-X Foundation likens the condition to a dimmer switch, in which a light is never turned on or off. But instead, it's always kept at a low level, affecting the child's ability to learn and process information.

"This at least partially explains why there is such wide variations of Fragile-X," Cohen said. "There are people that are mildly affected, there are some more moderately affected, and then there are individuals that are more profoundly affected."

On average, most parents of children with Fragile-X do not realize their child has symptoms of the condition until the age of three. Thanks to the help of organizations such as Cohen's and others, improved awareness has recently helped the average age of discovery decreased by almost two years.

Cohen lives and works in the Detroit, Michigan area, and first heard of the story through an internet message board, and then during a local sports-talk radio show.

He immediately sent the Porter family a special letter on behalf of the organization, acknowledging Jake's accomplishments.

"The importance of stories like this is that everyone has value," Cohen said. "There are unique characteristics in the way that they learn, and creating a school and a community where everyone is involved is important."

Porter's Influence On Others

"No one will remember the score 10-20 years from now, but they will remember what Jake Porter did." -- Waverly coach Derek DeWitt

Jake Porter has been a huge source of inspiration for people nationwide, and especially with families of those with mentally-disabled children.

The Herald-Dispatch has received more than 800 e-mails and letters from readers and many of them have either known someone, worked with, or are raising children who are mentally-disabled.

Liz Porter and coach Frantz also said they've received a large percentage of the letters from families with mentally-disabled children.

Both agree that this has been the most rewarding part of this entire process.

"I think this has done a lot for parents of kids with disabilities, and to me that means more than anything in the world," Frantz said. "We're all here for the kids, and if this helps people keep a positive outlook for those kids, then I will be thrilled."

"This shows that there is a place for them in the day in and day out of things and how much like every kid they are," Liz Porter said. "They like to be involved and have something to give just like everybody else."

Despite all the pessimism that surrounds us, when you look deep into Jake Porter's eyes, you see a world of limitless joy and possibility.

Every morning, Jake gets out of bed and arrives the happiest kid at the school.

He makes our day-to-day complaints of fatigue and bad hair days seem trivial.

To this day, Porter still does not understand the significance of his touchdown run. He only believes his score was worth six points.

But to the warmed-hearts and tear-filled eyes of many of us across the nation, Porter's triumph was worth so much more.

Jake Porter received an Espy award at the July 12, 2003 ESPN ceremony. The special ESPY award was presented to Jake by Dennis Haysbert.

"It was very emotional for me," said Dennis, who accompanied Porter to the stage. Haysbert stars in "24" and is better known to sports fans as Pedro Cerrano from the Major League movies.

Porter received a standing ovation when he came to the stage and lifted the ESPY over his head. "It feels good," said Porter, who will put the award in his high school's trophy case.

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