Down syndrome coach inspires others with positive attitude and dedication to football

If spirits start to sag along the Madison Academy football sideline, especially if the defense has been having a hard time, it could mean one of the assistants is taking care of a bit more. motivation. Coach Chris Kline is a threat to break into his best dance moves – and the crowd and Mustangs are still responding.

Even without the movements, Kline is an inspiration to those around him. Born 37 years ago – when his birthday comes on Tuesday – with Down syndrome, a doctor told Kline’s parents after he was born in Hershey, Pa. That they should put him in an institution.

Her parents, Randy and Debbie, immediately rejected this doctor’s advice.

“We were a young couple at the time,” said Randy Kline. “The doctor said he was going to be a burden. He will not be able to sit, he will have to be taught to sit, to walk. You will have to teach him everything that is natural to us. The doctor at the time told us that we’d probably do better to put him in a house and get our lives back on track.

“It was not our point of view. We said, ‘He’s our son. We bring it home and it will be the best it can be. We had to teach him, we taught him to crawl. But, he was always allowed to do his best, whatever it was. It would have been a horrible mistake to put him in a house.

Coach Kline is relatively new to Madison Academy. He joined the team last year when defensive coordinator Dan Styles left Bob Jones to cross town to join the staff of new coach Bob Godsey. Kline had spent 17 years in his alma mater, first working as a team manager for head coaches Mike Bates and Shannon Brown. After graduating in 2005, he moved from managerial to assistant coach status and continued under coach Kevin Rose.

“Chris came out for football at Liberty Middle School when he entered seventh grade,” said Randy Kline. “After two weeks of testing the coach told me he was probably good enough to be part of the team with what he could physically do. But, he said he was afraid the other teams would target him because he was half a second slow. He told us he was inspired by the way Chris played and wanted him to be part of the team. He asked if he could make him a manager. When he went to see Bob Jones, he was asked to continue.

Then Chris’ mom said, “He went from being a water boy to being with the coaches.”

Styles said Kline was “a Bob Jones staple when I arrived seven years ago. My older brother, Bryan, was a coach with Bob Jones. When (Kline) came to the first fall camp training session when I got there, they just said, “This is Coach Kline.” We agreed from the start. “

Kline works closely with Styles and often spends hours in his room at home crafting defensive diagrams on notebook paper – in handwriting, Styles likens himself to typed pages – and presenting them to the coordinator. “If it were up to him,” Styles said, “we would do 11 blitzes in every game. He has his own name for them and everything. To his credit, his ideas are sometimes better than those of some coaches with whom I have worked.

“I have about 50 different hand signals for defense and he knows every one of them. He may know more than other coaches. If I get hit by a truck, he might have to call the defense Friday night. I wish everyone had the passion he does.

“Being around him, and I think it’s the same for all coaches, he really makes you want to be a better man,” Styles said. “Sometimes with guys like him people want to make him a mascot. It’s different with him. It is part of the program.

“We usually have a staff meeting after every practice and it will come in from time to time. I usually take him home in the afternoon and we will repeat the training every day on the way home.

When Styles decided to leave Bob Jones for Madison Academy, he told Godsey, “I’ve been a great help,” Godsey said. “He said he was a good guy that he got to know and that he wanted him to come with us and that (Kline) wanted him. He was a huge asset. He is always happy and optimistic. It helps us. And, he’s a worker. He works all the time we are in training. He has homework with the equipment like everyone else.

Godsey said Kline, being older, is not someone who hangs out with athletes. “They have a relationship and they’re respectful, but he’s one of the coaches.”

When a new Bob Jones coaching staff arrived in 2020, Kline was offered the opportunity to remain in his post. Styles said Kline is “a loyal Bob Jones guy, but he wanted to take the leap and come with me.” Coach Godsey and the rest of the guys immediately embraced him. It’s a good environment with our staff and we’re kidding. There is no coating with Chris, we give it to him sometimes quite well. He will return it right away. He’s one of the guys, one of the coaches. He takes it seriously. “

Not always too seriously, however. “Every Friday night,” Kline said, “I’m going to do a sideline dance. They always take a picture of me.

Styles said he needs to watch himself in training, because on the way home, when he calls his wife, Kline reports to him – especially once he felt the coordinator may have been a little out of bounds by cutting the ground.

“He wasn’t behaving,” Kline said. “I had to put my elbows on him.

On another occasion, during a break in training, one of the Mustangs stole a soccer ball from a teammate who was not looking. “He flew over him,” Styles said of Kline. “He said, ‘You see me after training! “”

“I had to let him run,” Kline said. The player took his punishment, Styles said, as Kline expects the team to see him as an authority figure and, “I think they do.”

Like most coaches, Kline also has a background in athletics. He has collected numerous Special Olympics ribbons and plays in the Miracle League softball program. Styles once remembered when his friend posed for the Heisman Trophy on the Special Olympics podium. Another time, Styles said, he thought Kline got a little cocky after winning so much in one of the running events. “Four or five years ago I was there and Kline came out in blue jeans,” he said. “He had been very successful, so I think he just thought he would go out in jeans. I think he smoked. I said, ‘You come back here in blue jeans and I won’t come and look at you. You don’t take it seriously. He never did that again.

“I think they must have kept him out of the softball pitch because he won that event so much.”

Kline also stays busy outside the football field. Until August, when the store closed, he worked in a grocery store in Madison. Once a week, he participates in a program called Everybody Dance Crew, where he works on some of the moves he performs on Friday nights. He is active in his church, Building Church in Madison.

“He won competitions across the church,” Randy Kline said. “He participated in youth congresses and ministered to 10,000, 12,000 adolescents. We have traveled all over this country with him. He can do theater, music, Christian music. He’ll do the drama of the song and he’s phenomenal with that. It’s like God got the upper hand when he goes up on this stage. If you ask him what he would really like to do, he wants to be a youth pastor.

In addition to his church honors, Kline was inducted into the Bob Jones High School Hall of Fame in 2013, recognizing “outstanding alumni of BJSH who have maintained a high standard of excellence and have made significant contributions in their fields of study. ‘activity…’ and the 2009 -10 Inspiration Award from the Madison City Disability Advocacy Board.

Kline had a long special relationship with Bob Jones. “I have to say that football was a saving grace throughout her high school years,” said Debbie Kline. “The football team always supported him. You didn’t play with Coach Kline when he was in school. I attribute the football to how it turned out.

“Now we’ll be in the grocery store or wherever and the kids who have finished college will come and say, ‘Hey, coach Kline! How are you?’ We’ll ask him who it was and he’ll say, “I have no idea. “

Styles, who said he has had some experience with adults with special needs, made a point of treating Kline like a friend, not a child. “I’ve always been a little real to him. He’s smart enough to figure that out, ”he said. “You’re definitely not going to make him lose his mind. If you don’t walk straight and narrow, he will tell you. He brings out the best in everyone around him, kids and coaches.

Comments are closed.