The Centreville High School Wildcats got an extra good-luck boost before Friday night’s homecoming football game against Chantilly from a Centreville sophomore who is the team’s honorary captain and a Number 1 fan.
Juwaan Espinal, 15, has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair most of his life. But he is a big sport’s fan and found a spot within the Centreville High School athletic community, which has warmly embraced the young man. He was made an honorary captain of the basketball team last year and won the same honor this year with the boy’s varsity football team. The players all hugged or fist-bumped Juwaan as they ran through the tunnel onto the field Friday night.
“Everything is football,” said his mom, Ibis Espinal. “He’s always talking about football this and football that. He’s really a big fan.”
Juwaan got interested in sports while watching his sister, Shannelle, play basketball when she attended Westfield High School. When she left for college this year, he became more interested in high school sports at Centreville.
Students with disabilities or in special education classes can have problems finding acceptance, especially in high school where all youngsters face overwhelming social and peer pressures. Although her daughter adjusted well to Westfield, Ibis Espinal said she sensed the atmosphere at Centreville would be better for her son. They switched schools before his freshman year. It was a good decision, she said.
“He loves to come to school and never wants to miss a day,” said Ibis Espinal, an auditor for the county’s civil courts. “When he was diagnosed with this, I made a promise that he would never miss out on the things that other kids did.”
Support from the school has really helped.
“Making him an honorary captain and those things really helped, it made a difference,” Ibis Espinal said. “Let’s be honest, kids with disabilities can grow up in a cocoon because their parents are afraid that if they get involved in activities they will be picked on or bullied.”
“Here, it’s been great,” Ibis Espinal said. “They really support him and he sleeps with the (football) jersey that they gave him.”