Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Leechburg Senior Gets Carry of Lifetime Teen's Disorder Doesn't Get in Way of Td Run

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Leechburg Senior Gets Carry of Lifetime Teen's Disorder Doesn't Get in Way of Td Run

Article excerpt

After two consecutive losses, Clairton was on its way to a shutout victory. Then Mike Herbinko trotted onto the field for Leechburg for the first time in his life - and seconds later was chugging toward the end zone.

One play. One running attempt. One touchdown. It was 50 yards that went miles into making a 5-foot-2 special needs teenager feel bigger than life and made for what should be one of the most memorable plays in the WPIAL this season.

"I was too fast for them," deadpanned Herbinko.

Herbinko is a senior at Leechburg and has been a team manager for four years. Friday was senior night at Leechburg and the team's coaches, including school athletic director Mark Jones, had a grand idea. They would give Herbinko a uniform and if the game wasn't close, they would put him in and let him run the ball. Herbinko has Williams syndrome, a developmental disorder than can affect various parts of the body.

The Clairton Bears and coach Wayne Wade were happy to play along with Leechburg's idea. So with less than two minutes left, and Clairton leading, 40-0, Herbinko came onto the field, wearing No. 47. He took a handoff and burst through the center of the line. Clairton was gentle Bears, letting Herbinko go straight up the field and straight into the hearts of many watching. Leechburg's team mobbed Herbinko in the end zone in celebration. Some Clairton players also joined in.

The kid they call "Herbalicious" and "Magic Mike" might as well have been Phil Jurkovec for one play.

"Everyone was yelling his name," said Rachael McCloskey, Herbinko's mother. "Afterward, he said to me, 'Mom, did you see it? It was amazing.' He was, like, crying. He was so excited. He told me three girls came up to him and gave him kisses."

Herbinko said he won't play again in Leechburg's final two games. So Herbinko has the record for the best scoring rate of any player in the history of WPIAL football. One career play. One touchdown.

"I was just amazed I got through [the line]," Herbinko said. "It felt amazing. It felt like I was a real player."

Over the years, similar stories to this have been played out at other high school games across the country for special needs youngsters. Sure, the plays are contrived and some might call them hokey. But in this time of divisiveness in the country, when controversy swirls around football for players taking a knee during national anthems, this was a heartwarming, one-play story right here in Western Pennsylvania - involving black and white players.

"It shows there still is humanity in the world," McCloskey said. "That Clairton team was magnanimous."

Leechburg is winless this year and Clairton is 5-2.

"We sort of prepped Mike Thursday night that we might try to get him in the game, but we couldn't promise," Leechburg coach Mark George said. …

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