"Ryan is an inspiration for all of us. He always comes to practice with a smile and a positive attitude that is contagious."
Ryan Ronsse doesn't play offense or defense, but he's still a valued member of the McPherson High School football team.
Ronsse, 20, has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder in which a person has a full or partial extra copy of one of their chromosomes. The extra genetic material causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome, such as low muscle tone, small stature and upward-slanted eyes as well as impaired mental development.
But that hasn't stopped Ronsse from pursuing his dreams. For two years, he has been the manager of McPherson High School's football team, making sure the players have water and support from the sidelines. During practice, he enjoys dancing to the music and offering words of support.
"I always like to be the manager," he said. "It's fun."
Jace Pavlovich, the team's coach, said Ronsse brings energy and support that helps the entire team do better.
"He is a team leader for us. He is at every practice, film session, etc.," Pavlovich said. "Ryan is an inspiration for all of us. He always comes to practice with a smile and a positive attitude that is contagious."
The football team is recognizing Down Syndrome Awareness Month this month with stickers on their helmets, but even more with support for those who have Down syndrome. One of the players, senior Tyler Wheat, knows better than most the challenges people with Down syndrome face.
"I think that it is amazing that we are celebrating Down Syndrome Awareness Month not only because of Ryan, but because of my brother Will, age 14 and an 8th grader at MMS, who has Down syndrome also," Wheat said. "I think it will have a great impact on how others see people with Down syndrome."
As a player, Wheat said he enjoys the energy and positivity Ronsse brings to everything he does.
"I also work with Ryan during the summer, and we do many things from playing basketball to bowling to video games and whatever else," Wheat said. "He has taught me a lot about being patient and having a great attitude. Even though he can't pad up and go out on the field, I know he would love to in a heartbeat and that really makes me and my teammates play for not just for ourselves, but for those who can't."
Wyatt Siedl, a junior player, said having Ronsse's support makes him more grateful that he's able to play.
"Honoring Down Syndrome Awareness Month means a lot because no matter how the game's going, we know Ryan would love to be in our shoes, and a lot of us take that for granted," Seidl said. "The hope and energy he brings helps us to have that same energy all the time.”