It was muggy and crowded last week in the Snohomish High School wrestling room, where dozens of teenage athletes practiced on red mats.
Snohomish’s head wrestling coach, Rob Zabel, spotted a visitor by the door. Zabel grinned and asked the visitor, “Do you want to talk to Hollywood?”
Better known as Ike Ditzenberger, “Hollywood” was busy honing takedown moves with a teammate. Ditzenberger’s flashy nickname is a reference to the explosion of attention — including YouTube fame, a possible movie deal and numerous TV appearances — the 17-year-old junior has attracted in the past three months.
It all started with a potentially anonymous play at the end of a lopsided high school football game that turned into one of the most talked about sports moments of 2010.
A brief recap: With his team trailing Lake Stevens 35-0 on Sept. 24, Snohomish football coach Mark Perry called timeout and put No. 57, Ditzenberger, in the game for the final snap at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Before the play, Perry spoke to Lake Stevens defensive coordinator Joe Cronin and the 11 Vikings defenders who were on the field. Perry, whose team was on offense, explained he planned to give the ball to Ike, who has Down syndrome. Would Lake Stevens be willing to let Ike run 5 or 10 yards, Perry asked?
“Cronin said it was up to us and we all said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it, because he’ll remember it the rest of his life,’” said Lake Stevens junior Colter Swords, who was on the field for the now-famous play.
The players lined up. Snohomish quarterback Taran Lee took the snap, turned and handed the ball to the 5-foot-6, 160-pound Ditzenberger. Instead of tackling Ike, the Lake Stevens players chased him and intentionally dove well short of his legs. Taking an unconventional route that initially veered to his team’s sideline, Ditzenberger ran 51 yards for a touchdown.
Within a few days, a video of the play — called the Ike Special — became a YouTube hit. It captivated viewers around the world. As of Tuesday, the original version of the video had been viewed nearly 2.7 million times.
“When it happened, I didn’t think it would blow up like this,” said Lake Stevens videographer Tony Soper, who meshed KRKO 1380-AM’s radio call of the play into his Ike Special video. “I can’t believe it’s this big, and it still keeps going.”
‘It’s given him a boost’
Since he scored the varsity touchdown, Ike has experienced things most teenagers only dream of.
He and his Snohomish teammates were honored guests during the Oct. 24 Seattle Seahawks game at Qwest Field. Headline News aired a national story about Ike on Thanksgiving. Aegis, an L.A. production company, is interested in developing a movie.
Has the attention affected Ditzenberger?
“It hasn’t changed Ike at all. His head hasn’t gotten any bigger,” said Steve Ditzenberger, Ike’s father. “He’s still the same Isaac, the same kid.”
But Ike Ditzenberger has changed in at least one way.
The widespread interest has “given him a boost. As he’s aging month to month, like any kid, I think it gives him some confidence,” Steve Ditzenberger said. “I think it did kind of spur him on a little bit and brighten his light.”
Ike’s mother sees it, too. Kay Ditzenberger said her youngest son is noticeably more confident, and not just in athletics. In fact, sports are a small part of Ike’s busy life these days. In addition to being a member of Snohomish’s wrestling team and competing in exhibition bouts, Ike sings in a student choir and has been taking piano lessons for five weeks. Next month he has a job interview at a local Starbucks.
Initially, Ike wasn’t enthused about playing the piano — “This is dumb, Mom,” he repeatedly groaned when he started lessons — but his attitude improved after he learned to play “Jingle Bells.”
“I did it, Mom! I did it!” Ike shouted the first time he played the tune correctly.
Kay Ditzenberger said Ike is an example of the potential special-needs children, especially those with Down syndrome, possess.
“There’s so much they can do,” she said, “when they believe and get a chance.”
When school resumes in January, Ike begins his biggest educational challenge yet. Thanks to a proposal approved by school administrators this month, Ike will stop going to classes with other special-needs students and begin attending mainstream classes.
He will have his own curriculum and a district employee will sit with him. The new setting gives Ike a chance to observe and imitate non-special-needs kids. The hope, Kay Ditzenberger said, is Ike will thrive in the mainstream environment and be better prepared for life after high school.
Ike’s mom is grateful her son lives in a supportive community.
“Thank God for Snohomish High School,” Kay Ditzenberger said. “They’ve given him a chance at everything.”
‘Something they’re always going to remember’
The phone calls and e-mails are less frequent now, but Perry and Lake Stevens head football coach Tom Tri still marvel at the outpouring of interest Ike’s touchdown sparked.
Hundreds of inspired video viewers contacted the coaches via phone and e-mail after the Ike Special clip went worldwide.
“To me, Ike’s still just another player,” said Perry, who teaches at Snohomish High School and serves as the school’s athletic director, “but I do know that (Ike’s run) has touched literally thousands of people in a positive sense for the good.”
The Snohomish coach received Ike-related calls from people in Texas, Taiwan and Jamaica, and e-mails from Las Vegas and Italy. Those touched by Ike’s run came from different walks of life: athletes, coaches, officials, everyday folks who don’t normally follow sports, parents of special-needs kids.
Of the people who reached out to Perry, most were moved by the Lake Stevens defenders’ decision to let Ike score, thereby ruining their shutout.
“The play encouraged them that the youth of today aren’t all that bad,” Perry said.
The Ike Special TD was “a lesson about how to live your life in terms of being competitive but still caring for your neighbor or your opponent, or whoever it might be, on a daily basis,” said Tri, Lake Stevens’ coach. “A lot of the kids who were involved said it was one of the coolest things they’ve ever been a part of, so it’s something they’re always going to remember.”
The play even brought notoriously intense rivals together off the football field. On Dec. 7, about two dozen Lake Stevens players met about 20 Snohomish players — including Ike — for a pizza dinner at Alfy’s in Snohomish.
Perry paid for the meal with $200 that an Ohio man, Robert Smith, sent to Perry. It was Smith’s way of honoring the players for their roles in Ike’s touchdown run, Perry said.
“If you had asked me a year ago if we would sit down with the Snohomish football team and have pizza for dinner, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy. That’s not going to happen,’” Tri said. “But that was a pretty cool thing to share with Ike and other Snohomish players.”
‘Give others like me a chance’
Hanging out at home last week after wrestling practice, Ike ate spoonfuls of yogurt and relaxed in his family’s kitchen.
Asked what he likes about football, Ike said, “My coach, Mark Perry.”
Then Ike cracked a big smile, which he often does, and revealed another reason he loves the sport: “Cheerleaders!”
After Ike, who turns 18 in March, finishes high school, he wants to coach — maybe football, maybe wrestling, or even basketball or bowling, he said. He imagines driving a purple car, with a girlfriend and his massive shaggy-haired dog, Bear, along for the ride.
Pondering his future, or possibly just thinking about cheerleaders, Ike continued eating his snack. Behind him, on the other end of the room, was a large vertical display board. Rectangular paper strips with words on them were secured on the board. Ike has been practicing for a speech he plans to give Jan. 26 at the Seattle Sports Commission’s 76th Annual Sports Star of the Year event at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. He was nominated for Athlete of the Year by Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Near the end of Ike’s speech, he plans to say the following:
“Please give others like me a chance. Give them a place in your classroom, on your team and in your community. Help their dreams come true like my coach, team and school helped my dreams come true.”
Ike’s big year
Since he scored a touchdown on the final play of the Snohomish-Lake Stevens high school football game on Sept. 24, Snohomish’s Ike Ditzenberger, a 17-year-old junior, has embarked on quite an adventure. Here is a timeline of the events and honors he’s enjoyed:
Sept. 24: Ike scores a 51-yard touchdown at end of the Snohomish-Lake Stevens game at Veterans Memorial Stadium. A few days later, Snohomish homecoming princess Emily Zylstra agrees to be Ike’s date for the homecoming dance.
Sept. 29: Lake Stevens videographer Tony Soper’s video of Ike’s TD run eclipses 2 million views on YouTube. (As of Tuesday, the video had been viewed nearly 2.7 million times.)
Oct. 24: The Seahawks honor Ike and his Snohomish teammates during a game at Qwest Field.
Nov. 4: KING-TV’s “Evening Magazine” airs a story about Ike.
Nov. 25: Headline News broadcasts a national story about Ike on Thanksgiving.
Nov. 30: Ike is named an honorary member of the Seattle Times’ 33rd annual Star Times Football Team.
Dec. 3: State Farm Insurance Companies announce the video of Ike’s TD run won a newly created Spirit of the Game prize. The national award includes $7,500 for Lake Stevens High School and $2,500 for Snohomish.
Dec. 5: Ike receives his first varsity football letter.
Dec. 8: Ike accepts a plaque during the Snohomish County Football Officials Association’s 29th annual Scholar Athlete Awards Banquet.
Jan. 26, 2011: Nominated for Athlete of the Year by Seattle Children’s Hospital, Ike will be honored at the Seattle Sports Commission’s 76th Annual Sports Star of the Year celebration at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.
Who was on the field
Here is a list of the players and officials who were on the field during Snohomish High School football player Ike Ditzenberger’s touchdown run against Lake Stevens on Sept. 24:
Snohomish Panthers offense: Russell Crippen, Taran Lee, Michael Kilpatrick, Hunter Yeagley, Travis Pickett, Ike Ditzenberger, Darian Caldwell, Eric Koenig, Matt Greene, Mitchell Clausen, Nolan Shilling
Lake Stevens Vikings defense: Andrew Elgean, Mike Kemp, Colter Swords, Juan Delgado, Paul LaBreche, Ryan Enyeart, Chandler Ireland, Devin Guy, Matt Nelson, Carey Campbell, Alex Tweedie
Snohomish County Football Officials Association game crew: Dave Stocker, Larry Kiger, Robert Moore, Peter Vanderweyst, Adam Roberts