Jamie Dickson loves his football team.
It's a Wednesday, no practice, no game, and the 11-year-old get off the school bus proudly wearing his green No. 6 jersey.
"I am number six, see?" he asks, pointing proudly to the number on the front of his jersey. He looks at the number, too. He smiles.
His team is good. The Collins Hill 11-year-old South Division squad won their game Saturday to remain a perfect 7-0.
"We are having fun," Jamie says. "We are excited."
Jamie plays nose guard and is on the kickoff team. He has one carry at tailback. For one yard. He has two tackles.
"I am out there a lot," Jamie says. "When I ran the ball the guy hit me right here (pointing to his left-side ribs). But I got up and held onto the ball. You can't fumble the ball away."
He's not the biggest football player. But he's not afraid.
"I don't care about height. Or strong. Or anything. I just got back up and never gave up," Jamie says.
On his team Jamie is just one of the guys. He jokes with them. He laughs. This is his second year playing with this team. His second year playing football. The other guys look after him.
When Jamie showed up at his first practice two years ago, his dad walked him out onto the field and like every other parent, was told he had to leave. Only coaches and players are allowed on the practice field.
"I told (Jamie's father, Gregg) that he was no different than the other 21 kids out here," the team's head coach says of that day. "The kids kind of picked up right away that there was something a little different. I never said a word to them and they protected him."
Just as easily, Jamie could have been isolated. He's adopted. He's Romanian. He's autistic. He's hyperactive. He doesn't speak as clearly as most. And he's just a step slow. His teammates could have taken free shots at him. They could have ignored him. Laughed at him. But with no prodding at all, they accepted him.
"With 'regular' kids, they police each other," says Jamie's adoptive mother Vicki Dickson. "If parents would stay out of it kids would be fine. The kids put Jamie in his place or include him, pretty much like anyone else."
In a way, Jamie is just like most boys his age.
He loves sports.
Along with football, he also wrestles and will gladly demonstrate his takedown moves on you. He's a Clemson fan and his favorite player is Warrick Dunn.
He listens to music.
When he walks off the bus he has the jams on his mp3 player turned up loud enough to hear from across the room. Mostly rap. He even breaks into Chamillionaire's "Ridin'."
He is curious.
During his interview he looks over my shoulder at my notepad, trying to read the scribbling and he is quick to OK the use of a digital recorder after an inspection.
He likes to get new clothes. At 11, that might be a sign of maturity.
The pants he wore to school were a bit tight. "Boy, quit growing," Vicki tells him.
But he has a better solution.
"On some weekend we'll go and get new clothes, OK?" he asks.
But he is not completely typical.
When most children his age - or older - meet new people, they are quiet, nervous, withdrawn. Not Jamie.
I get a hug in the middle of my interview. A high-five later. I get tackled and nearly pinned.
That is just who Jamie is.
From picture to son
The TV in the Dickson's inviting family room sits in a wall-sized entertainment center. It, like the walls, is covered with pictures of the family's two daughters, Whitney, 21, and Brantley, 18, along with Jamie.
Slipped into the corner of one of the openings to the right of the television is a small picture frame with the close-up shot of a little boy.
The picture is dusty, and Vicki cleans it as she takes it down. Wiping it with her hand, then her T-shirt.
It's the first picture she ever saw of her new son. He is 3 in the photo.
"When someone hands you a picture and says this is your son, it's like being kicked in the stomach," Vicki says. "Having had my own children and then this. You look at the child you have never seen before and he is already a person and saying this is your son ... it's a very strange feeling is all I can say."
When the Dicksons, Vicki and Gregg, first started planning a family, they knew they wanted to adopt. And they knew they didn't want to adopt a child who looked like them. They didn't want a white child.
"Our reason for adoption isn't because we wanted, or needed or had a hole to fill," Gregg says. "We wanted to help somebody that needed some help. There is a huge demand for white, Caucasian babies. And if you aren't, then you get shuffled to the side."
Originally the plan was to adopt a domestic child. One unwanted by most adopting American couples. But with two girls already in the house, there was a fear that a domestic child might pose some danger because of a difficult or abusive past.
So they looked internationally and that is where they found Jamie. He was exactly what they wanted.
Nine months after signing the papers, the family flew to Romania to pick him up.
"What I wanted was a dark-skinned, dark-haired little boy," Vicki says. "And that is what I got."
The first sign that Jamie may not be completely healthy came during the family's 10 days in Romania.
Jamie was almost 4 and didn't speak a word of English. But he wasn't speaking Romanian either. He was just babbling.
For six months, the Dicksons attributed Jamie's difficulties to adaptation to a new home, a new country, new people, new language.
But Vicki was exhausted. A full-time mom since Whitney was born, she had been a foster parent and had watched six to eight children in a two-bedroom apartment. This seasoned veteran of the home front could not handle one 4-year-old boy.
"I couldn't keep up with him," she says. "He wasn't necessarily doing anything wrong he was just do, do, do, do, do."
He had so much energy he would watch a two-hour movie (he learned English with the help of Walt Disney) and jump the entire time on a small trampoline.
Jamie was kicked out of a mothers' morning out program and more than one psychiatrist told the family they couldn't help them.
"They simply asked us to leave," Vicki says.
Jamie was tested for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effect.
He had neither.
Finally after a trip to Virginia and $2,500 for a day of examination by Dr. Ronald Federici the Dicksons had an official diagnosis. Jamie has Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a form of autism. He is also
bipolar. His main symptoms are language delays, difficulty with sensory integration and auditory processing, and gross hyperactivity.
"Take the most hyperactive kid you've ever known and multiply it by infinity," is how Vicki describes it.
Federici told the family that Jamie was a "perfect candidate for a disrupted adoption." Meaning they would send him back to Romania where he would be placed in an institution and given the bare minimum.
Armed with a diagnosis, the Dicksons found a psychiatrist, Douglas Lee, who would treat Jamie. He is not on their insurance, but he is their only option.
"I couldn't take Jamie anywhere else," Vicki says.
Last week at football practice the players on Jamie's team were taking turns punting the ball. Just for fun.
It was Jamie's turn and his teammates started chanting his name. The punt sails maybe five yards. The whole team cheers.
"I did one good one," Jamie says.
Jamie thrives on those brief moments of glory. A tackle. His one-yard carry. His punt in practice. He tells those stories for weeks. With each telling the play becomes bigger and better. Jamie would make a good fisherman.
"For him, more than anything else, is the fact that he gets to hang out with the other guys that are doing boy things," says Gregg, who has his own high-five with his son and attends nearly every practice. "It really
doesn't matter that Jamie is slower, weaker, less skilled. They help him out. They drag him in the right spot. All those kinds of things you don't expect from 11-year-olds."
Two players are assigned to get Jamie lined up. Steven Tomlinson on the kickoff team and middle linebacker Myron Burton on defense. Burton will hold him back to keep him onsides. Jamie is no fan of cadences.
"I get really mad at (the quarterback) when he says, 'Green-11, Green-11, hut, hut,' Jamie says. "I don't know what that means."
Jamie is happy to find out that it means almost nothing.
The help Jamie gets from his teammates is not a one-way street. He gives as much to his team as he gets.
"He's a motivational guy without even trying," Herman, his coach, says. "The kids try to rally around him. He's one of the guys. He really is."
Jamie's future may not be on the football field. But there is already talk of making him a manager so he can stay involved and Gregg says he is OK with that.
But that is down the road. Right now, Jamie is a nose guard and on the kickoff team. Maybe he'll get another carry.
"He's got a big heart," Gregg says. "He really wants to be a great player."
Maybe he already is. Greatness isn't always found in the highlights.