When you first meet Will and Byron (Tubby) McLaughlin you know there is something special about these twins and student athletes. They are personable, outgoing, and have a quiet confidence. Perhaps, being a coach’s son, this is something you have to develop in your personality as you move from school to school or state to state and are always having to make new friends. Then you notice how both juniors, and new arrivals to Grants, NM, handle Will’s handicap-like he does not have one.
Will was born with no left hand. This has not stopped him from successfully participating in football, basketball, and track. The only thing that has interrupted his high school athletic career are the surgeries he has undergone to correct the disability. The latest surgeries took him to California where he has had two of his toes transplanted to his hand. The timing of the latest surgery means Will is going to be able to go out for football for an improving Grants’ Pirate football squad that looks to surprise its district 6 4AAAA rivals.
Grants Pirate football improved to 5-5 under first year coach Dale Hooper and barely missed a playoff spot in the 2009-2010 season. While picked to finish last in district and just miss this year again, the team and close insiders know when the pads come on there will be some surprises. The pre-season picks have helped motivate a hungry Angry Jack squad. Will and some added new talent will also help upset the pre-season predictions.
Will has been trying to earn a starting spot in head coach Dale Hooper’s explosive spread offense. At a recent summer 7-on-7 practice, it seemed Will was the only receiver that could handle Junior QB Ryan Ramirez’s crisp passes. Will is also quick after the catch and should be a threat to defenses, especially if those defenses do not respect his athletic ability due to his handicap. McLaughlin will have to improve on his pass protection in order to take the starting position, but either way should see quality minutes and help the Grants football squad vie for a state playoff bid this year.
Will has had some help in dealing with his handicap. Bax Crum helped Will learn that you can overcome adversity with the right attitude. What he learned is that with hard work you can do anything you set your mind to and be successful. That is why you will see Will running around town as he prepares for the football season, or out on the field working on his receiving. He wants to not just be part of the team, but to be a big contributor and starter.
Will’s twin brother, Byron (better known as Tubby), has the same drive and aspirations for sports, but the two compete in different events. Tubby, his nickname does not describe his athletic build, will add to Grants’ cross country chances as this year’s team expects to be at the top of district and state competition. Tubby will definitely add to track and cross country’s chances at bringing home a trophy. The only sports the two brothers have in common are basketball and track. Grants (NM) basketball hopes to improve on their state playoff run from last year make it into the final four of state 4AAAA. They will also help the track team bring home another state trophy-two years ago the team brought home a third place trophy for state 4AAAA. The McLaughlin twin should help make this or better things happen.
Tubby competes at Cross Country and Track. He has already identified his competition, not at the district level, but at the state level. He plans on breaking the 10 minute barrier for Track this year. The brothers compete in their common sports only like coach’s sons can. Tubby will go on and on about Will’s play and little techniques. Without even knowing, Will goes on and on about every accomplishment Tubby has had in their high school careers. These two will most likely follow in their father’s footsteps as a coach.
They will also watch out for the other. Grants girls’ basketball coach and father Bill McLaughlin tells a story about how in kindergarten Will was being bullied by a classmate about his missing hand. Tubby took the other boy down and started pulling at his fingers asking, “How would you like it if I pulled your fingers off?”
That was a long time ago. Now Will does have two fingers. They have been transplanted, one from each foot, and will give Will the ability to grasp with his left hand. Does this seem to bother the high school junior? You cannot tell it when you meet him. Will speaks openly and confidently about his hand, but he would much rather speak about the sports he plans to play this season for Grants High School.
With this type of athlete completing the ranks of an impressive Grants football squad there will be surprises this year. First, the opponents may feel uneasy about squaring up against a pirate athlete with a very visible disability, but the first time Will catches a short pass in the flat and turns it up for a first down then they will realize the game is on and forget about the handicap. It is what Will and Tubby McLaughlin have done. It is what makes them great contributions to the sports programs at Grants and that never give up, overcome any adversity, attitude that will help come district and state playoff time.