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Rise Together: An Unforgettable Halftime at FCC

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This home video by Toby Tripp shows his son, Bradley, making a goal.

By Gail Finke

 

“Oh Cincy is! So wonderful!”

One of the cheers popular in “the Bailey,” the famous, raucous cheering section for Cincinnati’s two-year-old professional soccer team, Football Club Cincinnati or FCC, starts with those words. It goes to the tune of “When the Saints go Marching in.”

There are other cheers, too, and drum patterns, and cadences to clap along to. Denizens of the Bailey (a low-rent, bleacher section of UC’s Nippert Stadium)  also pound the side of the cheering section, set off plumes colored smoke, and wave handmade flags. Not always kind to the opposing team, the Bailey generally cheers for almost anyone else on the field, including the children who escort the teams to the pitch, Sprinkles the Dunkin Donuts mascot, and youth soccer players who try to score goal kicks against Sprinkles at halftime.

I sit in the Bailey, which would probably astonish many people I grew up with. An arts kid rather than an athlete, I have never had more than a passing interest in any sport. But suddenly, and seemingly out of the blue, I’m wearing orange and blue. I’m standing for 90 minutes and singing for most of them. I’m getting it – the whole sports fan thing, and soccer, the once-incomprehensible “beautiful game.”

On Wednesday, at halftime, I saw something else beautiful.

Carson, a member of the Cincinnati TOPSoccer league, celebrates making a goal. (Courtesy photo)

“Oh Cincy is so wonderful….”

It was College Night. At halftime, while about half the stands emptied as people rushed the food and beer vendors, UC’s multiple-time world champion dance team stomped about the field and shook their long hair in some sort of exhibition they said was a dance. The UC Bearcat (wearing an FC Cincinnati shirt) gamboled about, and the men’s and women’s soccer teams faced off in a goal kick competition. It was good college fun, and as the crowd was heading back to their seats, Sprinkles the Donut headed out for the children’s goal kick competition.

But these children were not the typical tykes who line up for a chance to kick the ball. They were older, for one thing. Two were in wheelchairs, rolling out on the pitch with a giant soccer ball that looked for all the world like one of those ball-shaped pillows sold for children’s bedrooms – but gargantuan in size. Each child had at least one adult with him or her; some had two.

The first boy came up for a kick. He walked slowly, with difficulty, just managing to move the ball. An adult kept him on track, and together they walked that ball all the way to the goal. Unusually slow, Sprinkles did not manage to deflect it in time. The ball went in.

And the Bailey roared.

Not a polite cheer, a roar. People checking their cellphones or eating a snack looked up. People chatting with each other turned back to the field.

One by one the kids came up, so pleased with themselves they pumped their arms and jumped for joy. With every kick, the roars grew louder. The fans in the front row were on their feet.

Randy Corey is president of Cincy TOPSoccer, a league for children with disabilities. These were his kids (one of them, literally), and he and was on the field. “When our first player started dribbling the ball with the assistance of one of our coaches and the crowd realized what they were seeing and went crazy… that was over the top!” he said.

My daughter was one of the players on the field and her joy simply exploded! It energized her. She put the ball in the net and ran straight to the UC Bearcat and threw her arms around him – and he her.”

Justin, 11, poses with Sprinkles, the Dunkin Donuts mascot who doubles as a goalkeeper. (courtesy photo)

Then a boy hung back. His arms and legs jerking in spasms, he tried to run forward and backward at the same time. A man came out to help him and I recognized my coworker, Wayne Topp, Assistant Vocations Director for the Archdiocese. The boy was his son Justin, 11.

The crowd clapped to encourage him, but Justin hung back more. Wayne made a “quiet down” motion, and the fans in the center front of the Bailey started shouting to the people behind them on either side, “We’re too loud for him! We’re too loud! Quiet down!” To a man, the front row raised their arms and shook their hands in the American Sign Language gesture for applause. The rest of the Bailey held its collective breath. Justin took a few more steps before finally turning to his dad to be carried off the field.

“When it was clear that Justin desperately needed silence, the entire crowd in the Bailey went absolutely quiet to help him. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing in sports.” Wayne wrote on his Facebook page the next day.

He told me that Justin, who has cerebral palsy, can’t take loud and unexpected noises. He wore ear protection and his parents and coaches talked to him about what the noise would be like, but in the end the excitement and the crowd were too much. But only for a while.

“It took him a minute to calm down,” Wayne said, “but he was able to get a photo with Sprinkles, and the next day he was talking about how great it all was, and how he wants to tell everyone about it.

“I wish I could just say thank you to all the people there. It gives me hope for Justin in the future, and it gives me hope for the goodness of people. They were all there to have a good time – to have a beer, watch a game. And they cheered like that for us. It’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Emily Tripp pushes and her brother Bradley kicks a grant soccer ball toward the goal. (Courtesy photo)

“It’s full of orange – and blue – and the Bailey –”

The last two players were the ones in wheelchairs. By the time they came out, most of the 20,058 people were back in their seats, and cheering. The giant soccer balls, it turned out, were for them to kick while a coach or family member pushed them forward.

One at a time they rushed the goal, and even from high in the stands you could see their joy. Toby Tripp filmed his daughter, Emily, pushing his son Bradley, to the goal. A senior at Mason High School, Bradley is a student manager of the school’s girls’ team, and plans to attend UC next year. In Toby’s video, you can hear the crowd explode in applause, and then sing “We don’t, we don’t, we don’t mess around!” You can also hear Bradley’s victory whoops.

“In a world where negativity can drain you of hope, joy, and love, moments like these refresh and overflow your spirit,” Toby posted on Facebook. “Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful night. I am overwhelmed from it. Pictures and video cannot express the night. It can only be felt by being there.”

The fans thought so too.

“That whole halftime was a special moment. Every kid felt like a star!” said Jesse Gill, originally from Maine, who works for Luxotica but is now a self-proclaimed “proud Cincinnatian.”
“It was super loud in my seats,” said Tim Langlitz of Green Township, who has season tickets on the center west side of the stadium. “I can only imagine the volume on the field.”

Linsey Kraeling, a two-year season ticket holder from East Walnut Hills who sits in the Bailey, said, “I’ve been telling everyone it was the best halftime yet. I would love to see it every match.” She had never heard of TOPSoccer before seeing the kids on the field, she said, but “I just signed up to volunteer for their fall season.”

Marty McClain, who works at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Centerville and lives in West Chester, was sitting with his wife in just behind the team bench in the midfield. “It brought tears to my eyes watching it unfold,” he said. “The Christian charity of the Bailey was amazing. it was evident that everyone in the stadium wanted everyone to succeed in their own way and couldn’t wait to celebrate it with them.”

Cincinnati TOPSoccer kids and their coaches after halftime. (Courtesy photo).

“Oh Cincy is so wonderful!”

The moment ended, or rather, faded into the beginning of the game’s second half, when FC Cincinnati defeated the Ottowa Fury 3-1. A picture-perfect night people were still discussing days later. Halftime was part of that conversation.

“Job well done recognizing and celebrating TopSoccer during half-time tonight!” supporter Jemery Schultz wrote on a fan Facebook page, following his post with the city’s motto: Juncta Juvant. FCC’s motto is a creative translation of that phrase: “Together we rise.”

One of the fan cheerleaders, pausing here during a march to Nippert Stadium for a recent game, wears a shirt decorated with the motto “O Cinci is so wonderful” in orange duct tape. (CT Photo/Gail Finke)

“It was thrilling to watch,” said Rebecca Sontag, who was sitting with her husband in the Frost Brown Troy box, They’d been invited to the box, and so were already enjoying a special evening when they saw their friends and fellow Our Lady of Victory parishioners the Topps going for a goal. Rebecca said she knew how hard it was for Justin to walk out on the field in the first place, but was overwhelmed by what happened next.

“He didn’t make his kick, but he brought us all together rallying around him in support of his biggest victory – which was being present and being brave enough to try. Go Justin! Go FCC!”

“I didn’t expect the crowd to care like they did,” said TOPSoccer’s Corey. “I really think all of us were caught off guard. When they began pounding the wall and chanting, I turned around to see what else was going on down the field. When I saw the rest of the field was empty, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Humbled. Grateful. Thankful.

“Twenty thousand people stopped what they were doing and invested in our kids. What a blessing – that came out of nowhere. Was God active in that stadium last night? I absolutely believe so.”

And that’s how we rise together. Juncta Juvant.

For information about Cincinnati TOPSoccer, visit Cincytopsoccer.com.

Another home movie by Toby Tripp

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