Division Avenue High School in Levittown was in high spirits last Saturday when they beat Floral Park 9-0 in the homecoming game.
Standing on the side of the field in his blue Division Avenue football jersey, beaming from ear to ear, was senior and football team/bench manager D.J. Stephens. Stephens, a 20-year-old student with Down syndrome, was recruited as an honorary member of the team at the beginning of the season and has helped ensure practices and games run smoothly every step of the way.
“He just loves being one of the guys,” his mom, Theresa Stephens, said. “All he wants to do is make people happy.”
D.J. was recommended to join the football team as a manager by a member of the Levittown school district’s Best Buddies program, an international nonprofit service that provides schools mentorship for children with intellectual disabilities. When he first heard the news, he happily obliged.
“He used to tell me all the time how he wanted to dress up as the school’s mascot the Blue Dragon,” his mom said. “So when Coach [Ray] Weidlein approached us with the idea to be a team manager, we told D.J. to go for it.”
At homecoming, Stephens and his mother walked together as part of the opening rose ceremony, where members of the varsity football team are introduced to the crowd and present a loved one with a flower.
“It’s such a different atmosphere in school than when I was growing up,” his dad, Doug Stephens, said. “We’re so blessed in this day and age to have these opportunities. It makes me feel proud and humbled to see how things have changed.”
D.J. was unavailable to comment for this story — he was at the movies on a date at the time of the interview.