BANGS — At Dragon Memorial Stadium, coaches explained a football drill under the hot morning sun of pre-season practice. For this drill, coaches said, someone was needed to kick the football.
Senior Garrett Shackelford quickly raised his hand and called out, “I’ll kick!”
That brought a quick moment of laughter from players and coaches who appreciated Shackelford’s humor.
Shackelford has no legs.
He also has only one arm — his left — and a small portion of a right arm. Shackelford lost his limbs at age 1 to a disease called meningoccal meningitis.
Shackelford, 17, is in his second year at Bangs High School. He moved here from Springtown as a junior to live with his father. Shackelford has been a wrestler and previously played basketball, and is playing football for the first time in his life.
On the football field, Shackelford wears the Dragon green and full football regalia. He gets around by walking or running on the stumps of his legs, which end just below his hips. He occasionally lays down and rolls himself from one place to another.
A teammate helped Shackelford into a wheelchair and pushed him to the sidelines for an interview with the Bulletin. “I love it,” Shackelford said of football.
Friendly and forthcoming, Shackelford doesn’t mind talking about his condition, and he puts people at ease who talk to him about it.
Shackelford said he was born in Brownwood.
“I was born with everything,” Shackelford said, referring to his limbs. “I caught a disease when I was 1.”
The disease: meningoccal meningitis. “It’s a disease that cuts off all circulation to everything except your heart and brain,” Shackelford. Three of his four limbs were amputated.
He lived in Brownwood until age 2, when he moved to Springtown, where he lived with his mom.
As Shackelford spoke, he glanced frequently toward the football field, where his teammates toiled at practice, but continued to answer questions politely and patiently.
“Whenever I was younger, I felt like I was going to be treated differently,” Shackelford said. “Around 14, I just decided, you know what, I’m a normal person. I’m just going to have to learn to accept it. It just came to me — hey, I’m not going to change, so just accept it.”
Don’t feel sorry for Shackelford.
That’s not what he wants, and he absolutely does not feel sorry for himself. In fact, he feels sorry for people who feel sorry for him.
Shackelford said he sees himself “as a normal ol’ person. I don’t let people look at me any different. I’m not disabled. I’m enabled. I’m not handicapped. I’m handi-capable. I’m just like everyone else. I bench press, squat, power lift …”
At football practice, Shackelford said, he’s taking hits just like any other player.
“Earlier, some guy was trying to take it easy on me,” Shackelford said. “I told him ‘do not take it easy on me.’ I almost got in his face, honestly.”
Shackelford said he met Kyle Maxfield during the middle of off-season last year after Maxfield was hired as Bangs athletic director and head football coach. Shackelford said he told the new coach he wanted to play football.
“I just showed up … he took a liking to me pretty well,” Shackelford said of Maxfield.
As practice ended for the day, Shackelford and other players gathered around Maxfield, who told the players he’s proud of their effort and attitude.
After dismissing the players, Maxfield said he’s never had a player with the disabilities that Shackelford has.
“When I got here in the spring, he was just getting here,” Maxfield said. “He just wants to blend in with everybody. He doesn’t want attention.
“He never has an excuse for anything he can’t do. He doesn’t want any special privileges.”
Maxfield said he sees Shackelford as someone who has adapted and “he can do things you wouldn’t think he could.”
There is no “I” in Team, Maxfield said, and teammates try to help Shackelford. “We just let Garrett be who he is,” Maxfield said.
Maxfield said he hopes to find a situation during a game in which he can get Shackelford onto the field.
When asked if he thinks there is anything he can’t do, Shackelford replied, “Whenever it comes to me, I’ll find it then.
“If somebody gives me a job to do, I’ll try to do it two times better than the next person could.”