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Archer student with Down syndrome all smiles as football manager

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Jeffrey Pennington, a senior at Archer High School, is one of the managers of the football team. This is his second year holding the position.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Jeffrey Pennington, a senior at Archer High School, is one of the managers of the football team. This is his second year holding the position.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Jeffrey Pennington, a manager on the football team, right, speaks with head coach Andy Dyer during practice this week.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Jeffrey has been known to speak to the Archer High School football team.

He wishes them luck before games, congratulates them after winning efforts. During games, he makes sure the Tiger players have plenty of water. He's there on the field most practices too.

Jeffrey Pennington has Down syndrome. But Jeffrey Pennington is always working hard, and always smiling.

"He's awesome," Archer head coach Andy Dyer said this week. "He just brings a great spirit to our coaches and to our kids. You never see Jeffrey upset."

"He gets tired sometimes, we work him hard," Dyer continued with a smile. "But he does a super job for us."

Jeffrey's relationship with Archer football began two years ago. He describes his reasoning for becoming a team manager simply enough -- "because coach is my friend." It's a little more complicated than that, but not much.

His mother, Patty Pennington, emailed Dyer to ask him about the possibility of Jeffrey helping out. He agreed. Though Jeffrey, who turns 18 next week, originally wanted to go to Grayson High like his big brother, he's now a Tiger through and through.

"God had a better plan," Patty Pennington said. "He's a part of this school where I don't know if he would be anywhere else. He has more typical friends than I would have ever imagined."

The first game Jeffrey participated in, his mom sat in the stands, watched and counted as 15 peers stopped and spoke to Jeffrey. She knew then that "we were right where we were supposed to be."

As his second football season nears its end, you'll see Jeffrey setting up tables, refilling water bottles and collecting high fives from players on the sidelines. He also helps the team's head trainer.

He gets to ride the team bus to Archer's away games, his favorite part.

"He's all smiles," Dyer said. "He will never not speak to you."

Jeffrey also participates in the Special Olympics -- his team took the bocce ball gold at the state games just last weekend -- but has always been a football fan. His mother, wearing an Auburn T-shirt, begrudgingly (but lovingly) mentions that he's been able to bark for his Georgia Bulldogs since birth.

His work as a manager has been a dream. And a practical one.

"This has given him a job and a skill to learn to better himself so he can be more prepared for life," Patty Pennington said.

Archer football is only in its third year of existence and still a fledgling program, but don't tell Jeffrey that. Prior to Friday night's game at Parkview, the Tigers were 4-4 on the season, already an improvement on 2010's two-win campaign.

As Jeffrey puts it: "We're good."

Comments

sweetcece 2 years, 11 months ago

Jeffrey, All of us at Gwinnett Masters Special Olympics are so proud of you and love you very much! You're a very special young man. God bless you and I hope to see you soon. Your bocce coach, CeCe

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