In late November, Marc Reichler-Stillhard added a special trophy to his already big collection in his bedroom. As his mother, Enid, looked on, she was overcome with joy at a scene that seemed hard to imagine the day Marc was born with Down syndrome.
“Marc was a surprise package. We didn’t have a prenatal diagnosis and were in shock…I had concerns about lots of things such as schooling and would he ever be able to do the things other kids do. That includes team sports.”
Like any teen’s parent, Enid just wishes that Marc would dust off his overcrowded trophy shelf.
“Growing up in rural areas, so much revolves around sport. If you don’t have those sporting contacts it can be difficult to form social connections in the community…Marc has an ability to connect with all sorts of people. He seems to touch hearts and bring out the best in people, so lots of those fears have gone away.”
At the 2017 Nickelodeon Kids Choice Sports Awards Marc was presented with The ‘Honorary Local Legend’ award. This award recognizes that the competitive spirit goes beyond the playing field. Marc’s passion and energy towards soccer brought an entire community together and helped break down the barriers between sports and the neurodiverse. This award meant so much to Marc, his mother, and the local Yamba, NSW, community because it followed a rough time for the family.
At first everything was going well. Marc’s soccer coach came up with the idea of playing him as an extraordinary 12th player on the 14 and under team.
This idea worked well for two years and brought out the very best in the entire community. Whenever Marc got the ball his teammates, and even the opposing team and spectators would cheer him on
“The teams, both his and the opposition, always make sure during the game that he has an opportunity to play the ball…Watching the opposition team give Marc the ball and trip over their own feet to let him score a goal was one of the best events of my life. When you consider these are young kids, it’s amazing. They see how hard he tries and love that about him,” Enid said.
At 16 years old, Marc couldn’t keep up with those his age and he was still playing as the 12th player in the 14 and under league. This was technically bending the league’s age rules and the number of players aloud on the field at one time. Nobody seemed to mind. However, all of that came crashing down.
A parent, from an opposing team, submitted an official complaint to the organizing body and it was ultimately upheld. Marc could still play but not as a 12th player. Enid didn’t tell Marc the full story of his ban, to protect his feelings. Unaware of the real reasons behind his ban, Marc continued on being the lovable, happy go lucky, smiling prankster everyone enjoyed having around.
“Marc loves waiting for the school principal to walk past and taps him on the shoulder and hides when he turns around,” Enid said.
The Nickelodeon award was presented to Marc by a bunch of his favorite sports stars who all he was on their team. The award has brought goodwill back to the community of Yamba…and Marc also loves telling everyone that he’s a “legend”.
If Enid could go back in time and give herself one bit of advice to her younger self when Marc was born it would be…
“Don’t cross any bridges before you have to! Marc will surprise and amaze you with what he’ll do … I never thought any of this’d happen, especially this Nickelodeon award!”
Also, Enid has a surprising message for the parent who complained.
“Funnily enough, it’d be thank you – but only after telling them how upset we were. We’ve been shown that the wider community accept and love Marc and will look out for him.
“As a parent with a child with a disability you always wonder, will they be OK? Who will protect them when you aren’t there? Well, now I know.”
This piece is based on an article by Gary Nunn, for The New Daily which can be viewed here.
Bret Segall-Abrams graduated from North Carolina State University in 2015 where he studied Sport Management and Business Administration. He is currently pursuing a career in sports marketing and management. Along with assisting the Different Brains team with marketing and media content he is also a tour guide for Vermont Biking Tours where he leads week long bicycle tours from Charleston, South Carolina to Savannah, Georgia during the Fall and Spring months.