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VIDEO: Middle school wrestler with cerebral palsy has memorable first match


A now-viral video of a Freedom Middle School (Brentwood, Tenn.) wrestler getting pinned by a Sunset Middle School wrestler is one of those moments to watch over and over.

And tear up every time.

After Jared Stevens, an extrovert with cerebral palsy, was laid down on the wrestling mat last Thursday, Freedom Middle School wrestler Justin Kievit bent down to shake his hand before the exhibition match. The whistle blew and Justin scooted next to Jared, pulled the boy’s arm over him and got pinned.

“It’s what — a minute, minute and a half maybe?” says Jared’s dad, Phil Stevens. “But it’s the echoes of it that make the difference.”

WATCH: Raw video of Stevens' pin
MORE: USA TODAY HSS Nashville

Stevens caught it on video as did Justin’s mom, Sharon Kievit. Stevens’ video, which shows the action close up and Jared’s huge smile afterward is on YouTube.

Kievit’s video, from the stands, has spread on Facebook, with more than 87,000 sharesfrom Craig Kievit’s page as of Tuesday morning.

“It’s the bigger message,” says Stevens. “It’s about all the people who had to give to make it happen.”

At 13, Jared is physically equivalent to a 6 month old, his dad said. Intellectually, he’s very close to his age level. And socially, he hits it out of the park.

Jared practices with the Sunset wrestling team every day, and is often a vocal leader, says wrestling coach Clay Mayes.

After Mayes learned that Jared wanted to have a match, he called his longtime friend and Freedom coach Randy Stevens (no relation).

“It wasn’t about weight class,” says Mayes. “I told him to point me toward the kid who has the kindest heart.”

Easy. That’s Freedom seventh-grader Justin Kievit.

“He’s always stopping to help someone else,” says Coach Stevens. “You just want to take him home.”

Kievit, a seventh-grader, is captain. “I’ve never had a seventh-grade captain before,” the coach says.

“I was a little nervous,” says Justin, who had no idea how many shares the video had until a Tennessean reporter told him. “Then I kind of figured out what to do.”

“It’s a little overwhelming to say the least,” says Craig Kievit, who thought just friends and family might look at the video.

“I watched it over and over again,” he says.

Right after that now Facebook-famous match was another exhibition match between Hunter Alexandro, a double amputee from Freedom, up against Sunset’s Zach Holmes, chosen, like Kievit, because of his character.

“Hunter put in a nice deep underhook and finished with a half,” Mayes says.

“After both of those matches, there wasn’t a dry eye in the gym,” says Coach Stevens.

This isn’t a one-time thing. Hunter was set to have another exhibition match Monday and Jared will have another match Tuesday.

Family tradition
Rising to a challenge isn’t new for the Stevens family. Jared and his four siblings are always encouraged to try new things and push limits.

He’s a triplet; his two brothers are in eighth grade and played football with him last year at Sunset, when the team helped him score touchdowns.

One of the triplets does mixed martial arts; the other is into music, says Stevens. The oldest Stevens’ child, the only girl, is at UT. And another is at Ravenwood, and is going to graduate this year as a junior.

The Stevens, who moved here from Florida just a year or so ago, have always let Jared try new things, which has included ziplining with the Boy Scouts.

Stevens, an engineer by trade, just figures it out. If he needs to fashion a special harness, he’ll do it.

Jared wanted to try a different sport this year. His special education teacher, John Sandella, is also an assistant wrestling coach. (He’s the guy in the video, laying him on the mat.)

“He wears his team hoodies. It’s about belonging to a team. Like anybody,” says Stevens.

“We’re all pretty physical at home,” he says. “And he’s always talking smack around us. He’ll say, ‘You want to go, Dad? I’ll bust you up.’”

As far as careers, ideas change every other week or so. “We’ll see a movie about Navy Seals and he wants to be a Navy Seal. Or an astronaut,” he says.

He’s also said he’d like to coach the Tennessee Titans. Well, buddy, they might need a leader like you.

Contact reporter Vicky Travis at vtravis@tennessean.com.

 

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