LONGMONT -- The state champion Silver Creek football players swear team manager Wesley Summers had as big an impact on their season as any player or coach.
Summers' Down syndrome symptoms prevent him from playing football. But as the Raptors' biggest fan and most ardent supporter, Summers left his inspirational mark on every practice, locker room meeting and postgame celebration during his senior season.
On Friday in the Silver Creek basketball gym, during the same assembly where Mayor Dennis Coombs proclaimed Jan. 4, 2013 to be Raptor Nation Day in Longmont, Summers was named the IBM High School Hero of the Week. Athletic director Marty Tonjes' announcement of Summers' name drew more rousing applause than any previously mentioned fall sport, athlete or award.
After hugs from classmates Luke Goforth and Trey Fleming, Summers accepted his award from Tonjes with a high five. He then took a victory lap around the Silver Creek gym to receive congratulations from several more football players before tossing his hands up in victory to the roar of the assembled student body.
Tanya Prohaska, Summers' mother, could hardly see her son over standing students as he trotted across the gym floor. But as he did, she said she couldn't help swelling with pride that his father Adam Summers, who passed away six years ago, was witnessing their son's shining moment.
"I just couldn't stop thinking about how blessed I am to have such a wonderful son," Prohaska said. "I'm just happy to share him with everyone else.
"I still remember the fear when I enrolled Wesley in Silver Creek that he would get lost at the school. But the kids are such wonderful kids. They're so accepting and so kind. Wes seems to have a special place in their hearts, and a lot of that has to do with the team being so accepting of the special needs kids."
Summers received his award in the mail just before Christmas but had no idea he was to be honored at the assembly to recognize the football team's state title and the school's other fall season sports accomplishments.
Sponsored by the Colorado High School Activities Association, IBM of Colorado, 850 KOA Radio and the Denver Broncos, the High School Heroes program recognizes those who excel in athletics, music, speech and in the classroom, as well as exhibit outstanding leadership and citizenship in the school and community. Tonjes, who sent in the nomination, began the presentation by defining a hero as a person who is there for others, stands up for what's right and offers others his support.
"He's been with us since Day 1, and it's hard not to get emotional right now," Fleming, the Times-Call Football Player of the Year, said after the presentation. "He's the pride and joy of our team. We wouldn't be anywhere without him. He's an amazing guy. He's always happy and has the biggest smile on his face. He's just the main ingredient of our team, and we all love him so much."
The Raptors went 12-2 this past season and shocked top-seeded Rifle 32-15 in the state title game. Raptors offensive coordinator Tim Glenn, a paraprofessional with the St. Vrain Valley School District Significant Support Needs Program, said Summers was one of the most unwavering parts of their title run.
"He never got on the field, but he was as much a player as a manager," Glenn said.
Raptors head football coach Mike Apodaca said Summers has been a big part of the team for four years. For players who can easily get caught up in championships, all-state accolades and recruitment, Summers is a constant reminder of how important it is to enjoy the game.
"He's been a guy that the kids rally around, and we spend a lot of time talking about Wes' abilities more than his inabilities," Apodaca said. "When the kids see a kid like that and how much he enjoys the simple game of football, it really allows them to go play freely. It's one of those things where Wes has probably done more for our team than we did for Wes, to be honest."
He may have won a weekly award, but Summers was with "his Raptors," as he referred to them Friday, throughout it all.
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