CHEYENNE – Being a team manager is a difficult and often thankless job.
Like the football players he was tasked with helping, Cheyenne South senior Aaron Peterson attended practices and games rain or shine. Unlike the players, Peterson largely went unnoticed as he quietly fulfilled his duties on the sidelines.
Bison coach Dan Gallas took note, though, and he wanted to reward Peterson’s dedication the best way he could think of. He did just that prior to South’s season finale against visiting Natrona County.
The teams agreed to play an untimed down so Peterson – who has autistism – could score a touchdown.
With the ball spotted at the Bison 45-yard line, junior quarterback Braeden Hughes moved to his right after the snap and handed the ball to Peterson. Peterson ran off right tackle and beat a mass of Natrona defenders into Bison Stadium’s north end zone.
South’s sideline emptied as soon as the referees’ arms went skyward to signal a touchdown. All 30 players who suited up Friday ran into the end zone and celebrated Peterson’s score.
“I was scared of running out there,” Peterson said. “That was a lot of fun. All my friends were behind me, like Mychael (Mascarenas) and (Kaidin) Mondle.
“This was my last time with this team. I’m going to miss those guys.”
Gallas first noticed Peterson when he was a student in Gallas’ freshman health class. Peterson was reserved and would go several classes without uttering a word.
“He eventually opened up, and I asked him to come out and be a manager,” Gallas said. “I have a brother who has special needs, so I have a soft spot for kids who need some extra loving.”
Peterson’s first season on the sidelines was 2018. He dislikes the cold and wind, but being with his friends makes it bearable.
“It’s fun watching the game and cheering on my guys,” Peterson said. “This is my last time with this team. I’m going to go to college at (Laramie County Community College) and do mechanic stuff.
“I’ll probably come back and watch more games.”
Hughes describes Peterson as a goofy, charismatic, wonderful guy.
“He has brought me so much joy, and I’m sure he has brought so much joy to the other guys on this team,” Hughes said. “He is laughing all the time, cracking jokes and bringing us up when we’re down.
“He is such a great guy and an amazing friend. I love him.”
Gallas had the idea of honoring Peterson with a touchdown around the start of this season. Natrona coach Steve Harshman was quick to sign off on the idea when Gallas broached the subject with him.
“I was honored he asked us,” said Harshman, whose relationship with Gallas goes back three decades. “After it happened, we were in the huddle before kickoff and coach (Rosie) Brown tells our kids, ‘Every time I see something like that it gets to me. It’s so awesome!’
“It was really inspiring, and we’re honored to be a part of it.”
Gallas took the idea to South athletics director Mark Puev, who coordinated the event with the game officials.
The hardest person to convince was Peterson.
“He was very apprehensive,” Gallas said. “He said, ‘Oh no coach, I’ll get hurt. I don’t want to do it. I’ll get hurt.’ We had to convince him he’d be fine, and he didn’t agree to it until Tuesday.”
The Bison worked on the play Wednesday after Peterson was fitted for his helmet, pads and uniform.
South finished the season 0-9, but Friday’s game was bigger than football.
“(Peterson) deserved that, and his buddies rallied and made it happen for him,” Gallas said. “We have great kids here, and they have done a lot to help themselves as athletes and young men. The coaches are always telling the kids they’ll remember these times fondly.
“It may not be right now. Right now it hurts. But there will come a time they’ll remember all the people they played with. They’ll remember this.”