A group of about 30 sixth graders talked amongst themselves as they sat on the bleachers of the Sports Lab at Arrowhead Stadium this past Wednesday morning. A few donned the green and yellow jersey of the SMS Raiders youth football team for which they all play for, while others opted to break out the Kansas City Chiefs red and gold for this special visit to Arrowhead Stadium.
Among them was a child you'd be hard-pressed to miss, his face visibly fresher than the rest, his arms and legs clearly a bit shorter. His name is Ricky Cook-Alt, a 7-year-old third grader and a lover of the game of football. On Wednesday, he wore the jersey of Jamaal Charles, his favorite player.
Because of a condition called Arthrogryposis, Ricky uses a wheelchair to get around. The Chiefs knew all about Ricky, because after all, since last October, he had become more or less a local Kansas City celebrity.
Last fall, Vohn Watts, the assistant coach of the sixth-grade SMS Raiders football team, was sitting in his home with his 11-year-old son, Tiave, as they hosted both Ricky and Ricky's father, Rick Cook-Alt.
Tiave is the running back for the SMS Raiders.
"I was showing them Tiave's highlight video," Vohn said. "Ricky was talking about how he's so excited, and one day maybe he'll be able to score a touchdown."
This got Vohn thinking.
Wait a minute. Why, exactly, *can't *Ricky score a touchdown?
"We had him join the team, and then we actually ran a play and everything."
Ask Ricky about it and he'll tell you the name of the play with a beaming smile: "47 Toss."
"We got the other team in on it as well, so they knew what was going to happen," Vohn said. "The other kids on defense were actually running and diving at the wheelchair, making it feel as if it they were trying to tackle. Ricky had his shoulder pads on, helmet, jersey and he got to score a touchdown."
Ricky's score and story made Fox 4 News in Kansas City, and during his interview, Rick couldn't help but become overwhelmed with emotion.
"I had people at work walk up to me and say, 'You're father of the year,' because they saw me cry on the news," Rick explained. "It touched their lives, so you can't even, like I said, again, there's not enough words to describe what it's done for him, for me, my wife, my other [three] children, just friends, family.
"Simple things, like a one-play touchdown that lasted 10 seconds, can change somebody's life. That simple."
Ricky's newfound notoriety caught the attention of the Chiefs community outreach team, which after seeing the news story, sought to host Ricky and his team for a VIP tour of Arrowhead Stadium. But because the story broke in the thick of the NFL season, the Chiefs told the team that they would be invited in the offseason.
Once Rick heard of the trip they would make to Arrowhead, he mentioned to the outreach team that Ricky's favorite player was Charles, and it would be great, if at all possible, for Ricky to have the opportunity to meet him.
Local 2nd grade Chiefs fan, Ricky Cook-Alt, and his teammates and coaches from SMS Raiders youth football team visit the Chiefs Sports Lab. Jamaal Charles, Wolf, and Chiefs Cheerleaders make a special appearance.
Ricky, despite the limitations he may sometimes face because of his wheelchair, maintains big dreams. His favoritism of Charles has more to do with his past than his present, even though Ricky would be the first to tell you he loves watching him play for the hometown Chiefs every Sunday.
Charles, as he explained in his opening ceremony speech at the 2015 Olympics, felt some of the same things Ricky feels as a child. Charles grew up with a learning disability, but he said his experience competing in the Special Olympics as a 10-year-old changed the course of his life.
Ricky relates to that, as he hopes to one day compete in the Special Olympics in power soccer. In that sense, meeting Charles would mean more to him than meeting any other player on the Chiefs roster.
But still, because of Charles' rehab schedule, the Chiefs had doubts that they could make it happen.
That was until last Monday.
With the SMS Raiders already on the calendar for their VIP tour Wednesday morning, Charles unexpectedly walked into the Chiefs community outreach office. He was inquiring about wanting to get involved with any upcoming community activity.
Chuck Castellano, the Chiefs director of community outreach, understandably thought it to be fate. He told Charles of Ricky's story and showed him the Fox 4 news clip.
The two didn't make it halfway through the video before Charles said, "I'll make it work around my rehab. You just let me know when I need to be there."
As the sixth graders talked amongst themselves and met with K.C. Wolf and Chiefs cheerleaders in the Sports Lab Wednesday morning, there was an ambiance in the air that something significant was coming. They just didn't know what.
Castellano entered the room and told Ricky and the team he had a special guest that wanted to meet them.
That "special guest" walked in and the SMS Raiders let out a collective gasp. Jamaal Charles had come to greet them.
Jamaal Charles surprised Ricky Cook-Alt, a 3rd-grade football player w/ Arthrogryposis who recently scored a TD. pic.twitter.com/0p16MmWLQX — Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) March 16, 2016
Upon entering the room, Charles walked right up to Ricky and handed him a football, a jersey and a sweatshirt. He told Ricky that he had heard about him and had to come see him.
Charles, the greatest running back in the history of the Kansas City Chiefs, had come to see him, Ricky, the third grader who had scored a touchdown in a sixth-grade youth football game.
At first, Ricky was shy, but after about five minutes, he came around. The two talked about the Special Olympics, and Charles told him he could do anything he wants. Ricky asked him about his ACL injury, saying, "I bet you that hurt a lot."
"It was emotional," he said of speaking with Ricky. "To meet somebody that has special needs that admires me, and looks up to me, that means a lot. What I'm supposed to be doing is inspiring kids. I thank God for letting me come over here and bringing me over here to be able to meet people like Ricky and give him inspiring stories and keep on pushing his dreams and never give up.
"That's what I'm here for."
Rick was in awe.
"Just because Ricky has to use a chair to get around or he can't do certain things doesn't make him different," Rick said. "Times like this, when Jamaal Charles does this or the Kansas City Chiefs reach out to a whole team and him and a family, it shows that. I don't even think [the moment is] going to fully sink in until we get home, start looking at some of the videos and things like that."
After the meeting, Charles met with the other members of the SMS Raiders, took pictures and signed autographs. Ricky and Rick sat down for a pack lunch.
"While we were eating, Ricky told me it was the best day of his life," Rick said.
It all started with a touchdown thanks to members of the Kansas City community and ended with inspiring words from Ricky's biggest role model. And for that reason, "the best day of Ricky's life" became more than that.
Besides just his Special Olympics aspirations, Ricky tells his father that his greatest goal is to one day become independent.
Charles, his hero, told him in person he could do anything.
After a whirlwind of a couple months, Ricky now knows this to be true.