It was hard to imagine Clarence Kennedy’s smile could get any bigger.
Then he scored two touchdowns.
To most young athletes, playing football on Saturday mornings — and eventually Friday nights under the big stadium lights — can get taken for granted.
Kennedy, an 18-year-old Bay High senior with Down syndrome, knows all too well that’s not always the case — which made Saturday’s game one he’ll never forget.
When he joined the Bay Tigers three years ago, he was delighted to suit up in the blue and gold. It didn’t matter if he got into a game or not. Just being a part of the team and “being one of the guys” was enough.
Kennedy has been more than merely embraced by the Bay-Waveland community over the last couple of years and many had hoped he would get into the Tigers’ Senior Night game Oct. 28 against Moss Point.
But in the season-ending 28-21 loss, first-year coach Benji Foreman later said he couldn’t find an appropriate situation to get Kennedy his playing time.
Many in the community took to Facebook to voice their frustrations — which led to Saturday’s unforgettable performance.
Ricky Underwood, who coaches the 11- and 12-year-old Diamondhead Spartans in the South Mississippi Youth Football Association, saw the social media posts and reached out to Kennedy’s mother, Temple Lyons.
Saturday’s game against the Bay Tigers youth team was the perfect opportunity, he said, to get Kennedy the game time he longed for.
Twice Kennedy received handoffs. And both times he found the end zone. The first touchdown came in the third quarter, when Kennedy took a handoff around the left side. With his arms pumping and the ball clasped tightly, Kennedy raced down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown.
At the end of the game, Kennedy scored again, this time from 10 yards with defensive players diving at his feet.
“It was just awesome. It brought a tear to my eye. I was running down the sideline filming it,” Underwood said. “The look on his face was priceless.”
Lyons immediately posted her own video to Facebook, writing, “Clarence Kennedy dream!!! Can’t thank everyone enough. Those kids on the field really loves him. They blocked, act like they were trying to tackle him...lol...well played. Great Coaches...almost cried.”
Recalling her son’s big day, Lyons started to choke up again.
“Oh Lord, I teared up trying to film it,” she said, pausing momentarily. “As I’m telling folks, I’m very teary-eyed and everybody’s like, ‘Don’t feel bad. I am, too!’”
Lyons thanked Underwood and former Bay High athletic director Will Seymour, who coaches the youth league’s Tigers, for getting her son into the game.
“I don’t care what kind of gift or nice thing you can have in the world, nothing can compare to us being able to give him that,” Underwood said. “He’ll remember that forever.”
He sure will.
“Somebody filmed it on his phone and he has been playing it over and over, showing everybody that he got a chance to get into the game and score a touchdown,” Lyons said. “When he gets to school, he’s going to show all of his friends. I already know it.”