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Kiski Area football student manager has senior night to remember

| Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Kiski Area honorary player and team manager Jesse Hutchinson celebrates the start of the football game with a fan at Davis Field in Vandergrift on Friday, Oct. 19, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Kiski Area's football captains Joshua Wiskeman, honorary captain Jesse Hutchinson and Nick Sharek walk together to midfield for the pre-game coin flip at Davis Field in Vandergrift on Friday. Oct. 19, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Senior Jesse Hutchinson has been the manager of the Kiski Area football team since he was in seventh grade. But he's much more than that to teammates, coaches and anyone who knows him.

He's the “rain man” of Kiski football.

Hutchinson has autism and cerebral palsy. Autism is a developmental disability that typically causes significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, while cerebral palsy affects nervous system functions like movement, learning and speaking.

But Hutchinson has overcome those obstacles. In fact, he has shattered them.

Last Friday, as part of Kiski's senior night, Hutchinson put on a uniform and pads for the first time and stood with his teammates on the sidelines as the Cavaliers played McKeesport.

Kiski lost, 20-6, but Hutchinson left a lasting impression on those in attendance after he was recognized prior to the game for his dedication to Kiski football.

“I thought for sure I'd be crying my eyes out, but I just couldn't stop smiling,” said Marla Hutchinson, Jesse's mother. “I was so overwhelmed to see him that happy.”

It was just another way that Jesse Hutchinson has defied the odds. He's had a lifelong habit of surprising people.

Take, for instance, the Hutchinsons' family trip to Missouri 14 years ago.

“Jesse didn't speak until he was 4,” Marla said. “He made sounds, and he knew how to spell about 50 words, but he didn't talk.

“A purple tractor trailer passed us on the road, and out of nowhere Jesse said, ‘There goes a purple truck.' We almost wrecked. He hasn't shut up since.”

When it came time to begin school, Jesse was bused out of the Kiski area for autistic support classes, which his parents felt hindered his growth.

“We'd always ask if he could try regular classes, but he wasn't allowed,” Marla said. “He couldn't even eat with the other kids.”

That would all change dramatically when Jesse reached sixth grade. He began attending classes at Vandergrift Elementary, where autistic support was mixed with the regular classes.

“He just blossomed,” said Marifrances Kiebler, Jesse's sixth grade teacher and a 35-year employee of the district. “All of the kids loved him.”

Kiebler discovered that Jesse was capable of doing regular course work. And she couldn't help but take notice of Jesse's true passion.

“He always had a Kiski football program, and he knew it front to back,” Kiebler said. “He knew every stat — everything. He just loved sports.”

The Kiski Area School District, which the Hutchinsons say has been instrumental in their son's success, encouraged Jesse to get involved with the high school football program. He became the team manager the following year.

“He's always just been one of them,” Marla said. “The football team watches out for him. When he was at away games, the players would always make sure Jesse was on the bus before they left.

“In this day and age, it's hard to find teenage boys that act like that.”

Robert Hutchinson, Jesse's father, is a defensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Passion. Jesse has become a key part of that team as well, helping with coaching duties and traveling to away games when he can.

About 25 members of the Passion came out to support Jesse at Kiski Area on Friday night.

“These are grown women who have kids of their own playing football, and they have jobs,” Marla said. “For them to take time to come out here was amazing. None of them are from Vandergrift, not even close.”

The Hutchinsons said Jesse will continue to work with the Passion after graduation, but that his ultimate goal is to work with another team in town: the Steelers.

No one would be surprised if Hutchinson pulls it off. He's already overcome 13 surgeries, been an honor student for the last six years and inspired the entire Kiski community.

No matter where Jesse goes next, one thing is for certain.

“Jesse is a Cavalier through and through,” Kiski coach Dave Heavner said after Friday's game. “He is a part of this program and will continue to be a part of this program.”

Jesse Hutchinson will always be the “rain man” of Kiski football.

Ray Judy is a freelance writer.

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