A touchdown and a dream achieved
Both teams cheer for homecoming touchdown
FRAZEE — Shortly after the football was hiked, Frazee High School senior Carson Maneval took the handoff and leaned on his teammates to help him into the end zone. “At first, my favorite part was the touchdown,” he said. “But, then I turned around and saw everyone going nuts; even players on the other team.”
“There are not enough words to thank everyone who made this dream come true,” the 18-year-old continued. “It will be a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.”
The moment was unlikely because the son of Nicole Nudell and Mike Maneval was born with cerebral palsy. In simplified terms, his brain doesn’t communicate easily with the left side of his body, he said. Since birth, Maneval has undergone six surgeries, the first being shortly after his first breath and the most recent in 2013, when nerves were cut to relieve tension that had built in his body.
“I decided my life wasn’t going to be sitting around, so I decided to find a way to get stronger and get up and walk,” he said. “It is a lifelong challenge that I have to adapt to and figure out. I’ve been trying to walk on my own for the last year and a half or so.”
Because of his disability, joining the brotherhood of the gridiron didn’t seem to be a play he could execute on his own. So, the Vergas resident reached out to an educational mentor — Nicole Strand. Strand is a Frazee City Council member and works for the school district.
“I know Carson through school,” she said, noting she was a paraprofessional for eight years before recently taking a position as a health aid.
Maneval approached her in the first few weeks of school and posed the question, “Do you think it would be possible to dress in full (football) pads for the homecoming game?”
“I said, ‘It can’t hurt to ask, the worst thing they can do is say no,’” Strand said, and then offered to contact the football coach and activities director on his behalf.
Maneval accepted her offer. Strand sent an email and had a quick reply. Options were being reviewed to see what could be done for the young football fan.
The homecoming game was set for Sept. 20 at Underwood High School. Due to the Hornet’s new Nest being constructed, the team has a full schedule of away games.
A week before the homecoming game, Maneval was asked to join the team’s practice and he was fitted for pads.
At that point, Hornet Head Coach Russ Hackel contacted the opponent’s coaching staff. They agreed to play it by ear, depending on the score.
“Carson said he was fine with standing on the sidelines,” Hackel said.
However, if the newest member of his team were called onto the field, Hackel wanted him to be prepared. So, plans were drawn up for offense, defense and special teams.
“We made him an honorary captain, and the referees were good with it,” Hackel said, adding Maneval was also given the honor of calling the coin toss.
The Hornets took control of the game and put the score out of reach for their opponents. That is when all the practice came into play for Maneval.
“We felt a run motion was best,” Hackel said.
Teammate Jake Nagel slung his arm around Maneval and offered strength to support his weak side.
“All I had to do was grab the football and go,” Maneval said. “They told me to hold on and they would get me there.”
As No. 38 scampered toward the end zone, the opposing team cleared their bench, took the field and cheered him on.
“My boys were looking at me at that point,” Hackel said. “I said, ‘yeah, go,’ and they all ran on the field too.”
The coach noted the sport of football often is taught along with life lessons. For the Hornets team, the lesson has been serving others and not expecting anything in return. For their opponents, their lesson was, there is more to life than football.
“It was a great opportunity to enforce those lessons,” Hackel said. “I even had a head official tell me it was his best night reffing a game and he was thankful to be part of it.”
Strand was also among those who were cheering Maneval on.
“Knowing how important it was to him, made it that much more important to me,” Strand said. “It was a highlight in my career to be part of it.”
Maneval’s dream inspired and impacted the lives of many people. As his story began being shared, he saw another goal forming.
“In my community, there is not a mentor with disabilities around me on a daily basis,” he said. “But, if there is a younger version of me, if I could tell him about what I went through and how I got through it, I would. I hope my story can inspire someone else to dream and not be afraid.”
Maneval said his days playing on the football field are likely over, but he has a goal of earning a communication degree and becoming a sports reporter.