A big high school football star can be pretty important in the life of a seven-year-old boy. And vice versa.
“Wow, did you see that catch?” my seven-year-old son, Weslon, exclaimed in delight. He wished aloud, “I’d sure like to meet some of those guys.”
As family members of a high school varsity cheerleader, we frequently found ourselves at football games. My husband, Rick, and I and Weslon became involved in the games as well as in watching our daughter, Mitzi. Football heroes had blossomed in Weslon’s impressionable mind by halftime of our third home game at Round Valley High School in Eagar, Arizona.
Battling my own shyness, I determined to help this stargazing, bashful boy. “We’ll go talk to some of the guys,” I told him after the game. I then towed my son onto the field into the crowd. We approached one of his heroes and tried to offer congratulations. The young man breezed by, aware only of himself and two chattering girls who had cut in front of us to reach him. The next player mumbled “thanks” without breaking stride as I told him “good game” and tried to tell him he had an admirer.
Reluctantly, we approached the last player, wary of another snub. As I told him what a good job he had done, Ty Workman stopped in his tracks, football helmet in hands, flashed a smile of nice white teeth and said, “Thank you very much!”
Encouraged, I plunged into telling him of Weslon’s admiration. Ty’s black hair and handsome face dripped with sweaty exertion as he listened. He extended his hand to shake Weslon’s and said, “Thanks buddy. What’s your name?”
My son quietly said, “Weslon,” and ducked his sandy blond head to examine Ty’s cleats.
I told Ty, “Weslon likes the way you catch passes.” Ty beamed at him and said, “Thanks a lot. I’m really glad to meet you, Weslon, buddy.”
Mitzi went to school the next day and told Ty, “My little brother thinks you’re pretty neat.” From that point she relayed messages between Ty and Weslon. Soon the two boys became real buddies. After each football game they could be found together with Ty’s arm draped around Weslon, chatting about the plays. We attended every football game, even those out of town.
As we became acquainted with Ty, we found he was popular with everyone—young and old. He didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, and he had good moral values. He encouraged Weslon to avoid harmful things and often repeated his favorite phrase, “Stay close to the Lord.”
Several weeks into this friendship, Mitzi came home from school with some disturbing news. Her face a mask of disbelief, she said, “This is so sad. Ty has MS—you know, multiple sclerosis. They said he might not live longer than a year.” Weslon’s face fell as we told him what MS was. A heavy silence came over us as we realized the gravity of Ty’s illness.
In the next few months Ty had several attacks requiring hospitalizations. He lost lots of weight but forced himself to shine on the football field. Ty, along with Mitzi, was also a member of Show Choir, a singing and dancing group. He made it to many taxing practices and performances between hospital stays.
Late one evening we received a call from Ty’s dad. “Ty’s pretty sick. I think it would help him if Weslon could visit him at the hospital tomorrow. He’s blind and paralyzed from the waist down.”
After the phone call, Weslon disappeared into his room. He came out a little later, green eyes glittering with tears, and said, “I said a prayer for Ty.”
The next morning we visited the hospital bearing gifts bought with Weslon’s savings. Ty greeted Weslon with a cheery, “Hi buddy! How are ya doing? I can’t see anything but shadows where you are,” he told us.
“We brought you a few things, Ty,” I told him, trying not to let him hear the fear in my voice.
“Thanks a lot,” Ty said, his dark eyes looking our way but not focusing. During our visit my words were cheerful, but my heart felt bruised as I watched the two buddies talking.
We were amazed when the hospital released Ty a few days later. He went home with his eyesight and with the feeling in his legs gradually returning. Soon he was back in school.
Our family spent a lot of time with Ty through the next few months. Laughter and camaraderie warmed our home during Ty’s visits. He would talk with Weslon about lots of things, always reinforcing his slogan, “Stay close to the Lord.”
Soon after Christmas, Ty was flown to Phoenix for hospitalization. While he was there, he went into a coma. Just when we decided we should take Weslon on the long trip to Phoenix because the doctors didn’t expect Ty to live, we got a call. Ty had come out of the coma!
Following his release from the hospital, Ty’s parents took him to a specialist in California. After many tests the doctors ruled out multiple sclerosis. Numerous additional tests found Ty to be suffering from a virus that attacked the nervous system during times of stress or exhaustion. We were jubilantly relieved! He was still a sick young man, but now he knew how to avoid the debilitating attacks, and best of all a fatal forecast had been removed.
In spite of his many absences from school, Ty was well enough to graduate with his classmates in May. During the summer Ty held down a job and practiced for the Arizona state high school all-star game. He was one of four chosen from our region. Weslon was invited to practices, and we made the long trip to Prescott, Arizona, for the all-star game. Ty was down to 122 pounds after his illness. He was the smallest in weight on both teams, but his famous catches helped bring his team to victory.
After the game, he came jogging off the field, sweat streaming but beaming that wide, white smile. Ty got his buddy by the shoulders and they chatted about the game as I took pictures. He told Weslon, “Stay right here. I have to go get something.” A little later he came dashing back. In his hand was his all-star cap. He told Weslon, “I want you to have this. Thank you for coming to my game, buddy.”
Ty has been an inspiration to many. He was awarded the first “Ty Workman Award” at Round Valley High School. This award is presented each year now to a student conquering adversity.
December 1987 came and with it Ty’s call to the North Carolina Charlotte Mission. I took six tissues to Ty’s farewell service. In his talk he mentioned, “I have a little friend here that is really special to me. He is Weslon Whiting.” I should have taken 16 tissues!
Ty has filled an honorable mission. He continued to remember his little buddy, writing letters in the same spirit as he used to talk to Weslon. Instead of thinking of the joy he has brought to a small boy he turns it around. One sentence will ring in my mind for a long time. “Weslon, you’ve been a big help in my life, more than you’ll ever know.” With each letter he sent to his little buddy he enclosed a dime or a quarter for Weslon’s missionary fund.
Three years have passed since Ty was not expected to live. I thank this exceptional young man for giving me faith in a younger generation. And I thank him for providing my young son with a shining example of a true hero.