(WEHT)- “Andrew Kulinski is used to cheering on his team from the sidelines, but last week he got his chance to shine on the big stage.
Andrew is a 7th-grade special needs student who suffers from emotional dysregulation. He started serving as a manager on the Castle 7th-grade team this year, and they quickly adopted him as their own.
“When I first started, I was sitting around doing nothing,” Kulinski said. “But then when it got later into it, it got really cool, and people decided to help me and let me do stuff in the game and in practice, too.”
“Bringing Andrew out was awesome for him, as well as the kids,” said Castle coach Cory Bradley. “It gave the kids exposure to special needs students, and it gave Andrew the opportunity to expand his friend group. It worked out for everybody involved because the guys really embraced him, and Andrew really embraced them.
Andrew’s personality is always on display around the Castle locker room. He never misses a chance to inspire or motivate his teammates.
“Before the game would start, Andrew would come in and say, ‘Alright guys, it’s time to put everything aside, it’s time for us to strap up and it’s time for us to go out there and play castle football,’” Bradley said.
So when Castle took on Memorial last week, Knights coach Cory Bradley told Andrew to put everything aside, strap up and play castle football.
On the first play of the game, Bradley went deep into his playbook and called his signature play: I- right, Andrew special. Andrew didn’t waste his big moment, running for a 60-yard touchdown for the first score of the game – and both sidelines celebrated accordingly.
“It was an awesome moment,” Bradley said. “He spiked the ball on the touchdown. After the touchdown, when we all went crazy, he gave mom a big hug, and said, ‘Mom, I did it. I scored a touchdown.’ I’m not much of an emotional person, but you thought they were cutting onions that day, because I had a couple tears in my eyes.”
“It was crazy,” Kulinski said. “There were people everywhere. I have never run that fast.”
Andrew’s big moment caught the attention of the varsity Castle football team, which invited him out to practice as an honorary guest. He even got to meet his favorite player – Castle running back Peyton Guerzini.
“It’s actually pretty cool,” Guerzini said. “I mean, him being at the middle school. Just looking up to me. It actually feels really good. It was really fun. He was giving me some pointers on what I should do, you know, some tips. I kind of gave him some tips. It was really fun.”
Andrew’s moment was bigger than sports. And for those closest to him, they know just how big it was.
“Andrew is one of my best friends,” Bradley said. “I’ve been with him for two years now. We spend a lot of time together, and in that time, we’ve bonded. Andrew’s come a long way in these two years since I’ve gotten here, and I’m very proud of him and the effort he’s put into that.”
It’s hard to articulate what Castle football has meant to Andrew, but he sums it up best in three words.
“It’s like home.”
(This story was originally published on October 24, 2020)