Basalt senior has unique bond with football team | AspenTimes.com

Basalt senior has unique bond with football team

At 300 pounds, "The Moffat Masher" is going to be a formidable foe for Basalt High School senior Oliver Harrington. But, if anyone can find a way past the super-sized lineman and into the end zone, it's the pride and joy of Longhorn football.

"In a perfect world, he'll score a touchdown. But I got to tell you, I've taught my son a lot, and one thing I taught him is never assume anything is going to go your way," said Oliver's father, Matt Harrington. "He's the guy who loves football. He's the guy who wants to be involved with the team. But, he's the guy in the wheelchair. So it's not easy for him to play a lot of sports."

Oliver, 18, was born with craniosynostosis, a condition in which the skull was fused together prematurely, hindering the development of the brain. He's never walked, and has undergone more major surgeries than anyone should ever have to.

None of this has stopped him, however. Oliver is one of the happiest kids this side of the Rockies, and nothing brings him more joy than spending time with the Basalt football team.

"It's always a joy to see him there. He's just a positive kid all the time," said Basalt senior quarterback Miles Levy. "Oliver has definitely been an inspiration to everybody on the team. He has been one of my best friends since kindergarten. We've done so much together."

One reason Oliver's condition has never slowed him is the support he has around him. His senior classmates — in particular football players Kyle Roberts, Ian Lumsden and Levy, as well as Dylan Gressett, a baseball player — have been at his side most of his life.

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And there are not many people Oliver idolizes more than Basalt football coach Carl Frerichs.

"Coach Frerichs, who is just an amazing man, has been with Oliver since fifth grade. He's always made sure that Oliver was involved," Matt Harrington said. "It's absolutely touching to see how these young men involve our son in their everyday lives. As young kids, they would take him trick or treating."

It was Levy and his father, assistant coach Mitch Levy, along with Roberts, who first asked if Oliver could be part of the football team back when the boys were just getting into middle school. This relationship carried into high school, where Oliver's constant presence — whether at games or practices — has become a source of inspiration for the team.

Prior to the season starting, the football team created T-shirts that read, "You may see me struggle, but you will never see me quit." That is Oliver's motto, one the Longhorns have also embraced as their own. The T-shirts, originally just for the football team, became hot commodities around town — they've sold 177 shirts to date, raising around $2,000 for the Basalt High School booster club.

"I've had Oliver since he was in fifth grade. He's a big part of the team," Frerichs said. "He can throw a football with his left hand better than most high schoolers can. Oliver loves sports and loves being around the guys — I think that's growing up in a small town and being in preschool together, and it's grown over to all of the classes."

Two weeks ago, during halftime of Basalt's homecoming football game against Aspen, Oliver was named homecoming king. It was a special moment for a special kid who loves Basalt football more than anything else.

Last season, in a junior varsity game against Coal Ridge, both teams came together to allow Oliver, in his wheelchair, to run a play and score a touchdown. Today, prior to Basalt's senior day game against Moffat County — where the league title is essentially on the line — the Longhorns and the Bulldogs are going to do the same.

Only this isn't a JV game, but one of the most important varsity games the Longhorns have played in recent memory. And standing between Oliver and the end zone is "The Moffat Masher," an imaginary antagonist invented by Oliver's father.

"I told Oliver, 'This guy's over 300 pounds. He's got a picture of you in his locker,'" Matt Harrington said. "He's always been the kid on the outside looking in, like a lot of kids in wheelchairs. These guys have made sure he's the kid on the inside with the team. Come Sunday, he doesn't give a damn about football games on TV. He doesn't watch football. He just likes to be with his friends and be involved with the team."

Oliver is a young man that faces adversity every day. On the outside, it would seem he lives a difficult and unfair life. But, that's not the kid you'd meet in person. Oliver is as happy a person as you'll find, surrounded by the best friends anyone could ask for. He's a high school senior, the homecoming king, and today will get to live his motto, struggling to face a larger-than-life foe, but never willing to quit until he's reached the end zone, his community there with him.

"We are very, very fortunate with him in his position that he has all these kids that have pushed his wheelchair around his whole life and made sure that nobody teases him. These kids have just been amazing morale support his whole life," said Terry Harrington, Oliver's mother.

"The one thing I've wanted for a very long time is to be able to thank the other kids and coach Frerichs for involving Oliver as much as they do. They never leave him out. It's just so awesome. I can't say enough good things about this class."

The pre-game activities, which include Oliver's attempt at a touchdown, will start around 6:30 p.m. in Basalt. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Veterans and current military members receive free admission.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

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