Snohomish athlete makes the biggest play of his life
Opposing players help football player with Down Syndrome make touchdown run
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Snohomish High School football player Ike Ditzenberger, who lives with Down syndrome, ran 51 yards for a touchdown in the final 10 seconds of Snohomish's 35-6 varsity loss to Lake Stevens on Friday.
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Snohomish High School football player Ike Ditzenberger jokes around between plays during practice Tuesday afternoon at Snohomish Memorial Stadium.
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Snohomish High School football player Ike Ditzenberger plays catch during practice Tuesday afternoon at Snohomish Memorial Stadium.
He has something else on his mind.
“His biggest concern,” said Ditzenberger's mom, Kay Ditzenberger, “is getting a date for homecoming.”
Ike Ditzenberger is an increasingly well-known Snohomish High School football player who — with help from a compassionate opponent — made the biggest play of his life last weekend.
The 5-foot-6, 160-pound junior attracted attention throughout the U.S. and even other parts of the world because of his 51-yard touchdown run at the end of winless Snohomish's 35-6 loss against the unbeaten Lake Stevens Vikings on Friday.
Ike, who has Down syndrome, was featured last October in a story published in The Herald. This season, he has continued practicing with the Panthers and lately has gotten a chance to run the ball at the end of varsity games.
In his most recent opportunity, Ditzenberger took an unconventional route but ran 51 yards into the end zone on the final play against Lake Stevens at Veterans Memorial Stadium. As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, Lake Stevens videographer Tony Soper's 45-second video of the play — featuring audio provided by KRKO (1380 AM) — had been viewed nearly 2 million times, according to YouTube statistics.
Numerous media outlets from coast to coast reported the story, and the Snohomish and Lake Stevens head football coaches were bombarded with more than 100 e-mails from inspired viewers, even one from Jamaica.
Ike doesn't realize how big the story is, his mom said. But the flood of attention delighted Ike's parents.
“I've been laughing my head off all day,” Kay Ditzenberger said Tuesday. “Ike goes viral!”
It all started with one play at the end of a Class 4A Western Conference North Division blowout.
After fans chanted, “We want Ike! We want Ike!” for several minutes, with 10 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Snohomish football coach Mark Perry called time out. He put Ike in the game to run his trademark play, the Ike Special, which Ike does at the end of every Panthers practice.
Perry said he told Lake Stevens defenders — who, by then, in the one-sided game, were mostly little-used sophomores and juniors — that they didn't need to let Ike run for a TD but asked to let him run 5 or 10 yards before tackling him.
Instead, the Lake Stevens players helped give little Ike the thrill of his life.
Wearing No. 57, Ike took a handoff and ran with the ball.
“We just don't know where he's always going to go,” Perry said. “He started out wide and went out wider.”
Ike actually stepped out of bounds after veering left along the line of scrimmage, but Lake Stevens defenders still pursued him, feigning numerous diving tackle attempts. Good-natured officials let the play continue. Ike shifted direction. He eventually reached the end zone, celebrated with teammates and performed a celebration dance.
“We were all bawling in the stands,” said Kay Ditzenberger, whose husband, Steve Ditzenberger, was on the sideline on Snohomish's chain crew. “We are constantly amazed at the lengths to which the players, coaches and fans will go to cheer Ike on and include (him) as one of their own.
“They gave him the gift of normalcy,” she added, referring to the Lake Stevens players' generosity and sportsmanship.
After scoring, Ike raced to the sideline, ripped off his helmet, pumped it in the air and yelled “like a banshee,” said his mom, who joyfully cried along with many other fans from each side.
For many years Ike's parents have used football as a motivational tool for Ike. As long as Ike keeps up with his studies, particularly reading assignments, he gets to play.
“He's not the shy little boy with Down's anymore. He's one of the guys now,” Kay Ditzenberger said.
Ike wouldn't have experienced the confidence-boosting moment on Friday without help. Lake Stevens allowed it to happen, but Vikings coach Tom Tri said it wasn't his idea. He gave all credit to his players who were on the field. Coincidentally, many of them played in the Lake Stevens-Snohomish junior-varsity game in October when Ike was allowed to run for a score.
Like any coach would, Tri desperately wanted his defense to earn a coveted shutout victory — something Lake Stevens (4-0) has not accomplished against Snohomish in at least 20 years, Tri said. Tri was not aware of coach Perry's plan to give Ike the ball until it happened, and at first Tri didn't know how to feel about it.
Upon reflection on Tuesday, Tri called it a win-win situation: “Ike got his touchdown and (in essence) we got our shutout.
“It happened for a reason,” Tri added, “and I'm just glad we were part of the process. We have good kids here and I think they understand the bigger picture.”
Like many coaches, Tri constantly reminds student-athletes that sports builds character.
“If we have to sacrifice a shutout or give up six points to touch thousands of people around the country, then absolutely it's worth it,” Tri said.
Traditionally successful Snohomish is 0-4 and has been outscored 172-13 this season — 172-7 not including Ike's TD. The struggling team's goals, coach Perry said, remain the same: Improve every week and win.
“As long as our kids don't quit, we're still learning,” Perry said. “Maybe they will learn something from Ike.”
Meanwhile, the positive attention related to Ike's feel-good run is uplifting in a truly painful time for Lake Stevens, coach Tri said. The Vikings learned on Sunday of the death of Tyler Reside, a 2010 Lake Stevens High graduate and two-year varsity-team football starter.
While Reside's former teammates mourn and prepare to play 3-1 Arlington this week, Tri hopes they are comforted by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Lake Stevens' sportsmanship during Ike's special play.
Said Tri, “I hope that that puts a smile (on the Vikings' faces) and a real positive image in their heads.”
Mike Cane: email@example.com. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam and follow Cane on Twitter at MikeCaneHerald.