The rain had stopped a couple hours ago. The bi-polar weather of the Pacific Northwest seemed to want to cooperate, like it knew how big the day was. Though the cold of fall persisted.
But even with the autumn chill in the air, there was a warmth around Flesher Field on Oct. 21.
And as the minutes ticked down to kickoff, with the Celtics gathered, Tyler Young stood at the front of the pack, adorned in a sapphire blue helmet and number 38 jersey.
He didn’t have pads, he wasn’t on the roster. But for a night, Tyler was part of the team.
So, as has become tradition at football games across the nation, the Celtics made their run out to the field, Tyler alongside stride for stride.
“He told Dave that night, my dream just came true,” Tyler’s mother Kelly Young said.
Tyler has always liked football, all sports in general, and is actually pretty good, Kelly said.
With a family mostly raised in Eugene, the Youngs are Oregon Duck fans. But Tyler likes to have fun with that.
“We have a little joke about it,” Kelly said. “He says ‘go Beavers’ and we chant back ‘down the toilet.’”
But all in good fun on a Saturday back-and-forth.
He was the son of Kelly’s adopted cousin, and that is how she came to know about Tyler. Tyler came to live with Kelly and her family at 9-months. He was the son of Kelly’s adopted cousin, and had a wealth of struggles to overcome.
At 19-months, Tyler began suffering seizures.
He was taken to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland for 12 days and put under surveillance with an EEG on his head and 24/7 video monitoring.
As Tyler got older, behavioral issues came to the surface, Kelly said. He went through four elementary schools, was suspended from Whiteaker Middle School at one point, and sent to the Behavior Intervention Center in Lake Labish.
But many of those in-school disciplinary issues were resolved when he got to McNary as a sophomore in 2020.
Tyler did have behavioral problems at home as well. According to Kelly he broke windows and even her nose, and was sent to a group home for three years.
However, it was his time at McNary that brought his stay at the group home to an end.
Tyler will turn 18 on Nov. 11, and Kelly was informed that it is the policy of the state that once someone living in a group home for juveniles turns 18, they are sent to whatever adult group home has an opening.
“When we were having the discussion about an adult home, they said that they could move him anywhere in the state of Oregon,” Kelly said. “What about graduating from McNary? He loves McNary.”
But, that didn’t matter. If Tyler stayed in the group home, he would be moved, possibly ending his time at McNary a few short months from graduation.
Kelly had one option, bring Tyler home. And he’s been there since August.
And with that, he’s been able to stay at McNary.
“Not everyone can understand kids with special needs,” Kelly said. “It’s hard to keep employees that deal with kids with special needs, it’s hard to find those people who accept it or know how. They’ve got it there.”I just think about it and I’m in awe of how each and every player accepted him to be part of the team that night.”
His time with the Celtics didn’t end with the entrance. During the game, Tyler was right there with the team.
He made his way up and down the sidelines, helmet on. He had a drink from the familiar green Gatorade bottles. And he spoke with the team.
And no, it didn’t end in a win, but that didn’t matter to Tyler.
A few players like quarterback Jackson Alt knew Tyler from the Unified Sports program. But, according to head coach Connor Astley, most of them got to know him during the week’s practices.
But even as the Celtics’ deficit grew, you couldn’t tell from the players’ interactions with Tyler on the sideline.
“I was impressed with our guys,” Dave Bartlett said. “Everybody looked him in the eye, communicated and cared about what he had to say.”
Just like the work on the field, creating this night for Tyler was a team effort, and Bartlett was one of the key pieces.
His son Jesiah is on the team, and he works at Forest Ridge Elementary, where Kelly volunteers. The two have known each other for more than 20 years.
One Thursday while at Forest Ridge, Kelly asked if Bartlett knew Astley, hoping to get Tyler some interaction with the team.
Bartlett reached out to Astley, who in turn got in touch with Tyler’s special education teacher Kelly Parsell. Parsell also happens to be the Celtics softball coach.
The next day Kelly got the call that they could get it set up for the next home game.
“To me that shows that they’re going to make it work, as a community,” Kelly said. “Sure it was one kid, but they made a difference for that one kid that night.”
Their night didn’t end with the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
When they got home, Kelly and Tyler stayed up late to watch the channel 12 news’ segment about Tyler at the game.
Perhaps the excitement was a bit much, because hours later Tyler was ready to watch it again.
“He woke up at like 4:30 in the morning, ‘can we watch it again, mom?’” Kelly said. “And I’m like ‘honey, we just need to go back to sleep.”
So Kelly and Tyler made a deal. Tyler could put the jersey back on if he went back to sleep.
Kelly estimates that they had watched the segment more than 300 times over the weekend following the game.
“He’s just on cloud-nine,” Kelly said.
And it’s not just Tyler and Kelly who have been left feeling touched by the moment.
Kelly said that she had received multiple messages from Bartlett thanking her for letting him be a part of it.
“Are you kidding me? He’s a hero right now,” Kelly said.