PERFECT FIT: Sanders finds place to belong with Troy football

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, September 12, 2018

As Charles Henderson senior Sheldan Sanders neared the end of his junior year in February, teachers were looking to find a place that he could transition from school life to the working world.

Sheldan was born with cerebral palsy and must use a wheelchair and can sometimes have some trouble speaking.

His special education teachers found the perfect fit for Sheldan as an intern in equipment management for the Troy University football program.

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“One of the things that we do at the high school is to ensure that they have postsecondary goals or employment opportunities,” said Tina Lieb, head of the special education department at the high school. “As Sheldon’s mother and I were talking and working through plans for him after he graduated, we knew he loves to talk to people and he loves football. So we thought maybe the university would allow him to come and work there.”

So Lieb approached special ed teacher Taylor Polk, who played football for Troy under head coach Neal Brown in his final seasons, to contact the department and see what was possible.

“So I called Neal Brown right then and he said ‘yeah, bring him over’ so we brought him in,” Polk said.

Initially the plan was for Sheldan to help out with recruiting, but it Polk said they quickly discovered there was too much movement from downstairs to upstairs for Sheldan to do every day.

So Polk called up his old friend Ian Grier, equipment manager, and asked what else Sheldan might be able to do in the program.

“We can always use more help in equipment,” Grier told Polk, so Sheldan joined the equipment team where he began helping with reorganizing gloves for the games, putting facemasks on helmets, “almost anything and everything we do everyday,” Grier said.

Sheldan’s mother, Shelia Sanders Compton, said his involvement program has radically changed his outlook on school.

“It has been an amazing opportunity for him,” Compton said. “Where in the past he has hated school, he is excited now because he knows in fourth block he gets to go do something he thoroughly enjoys being able to work with the football team.”

Lieb said she has seen that impact as well since Sheldan began his work with Troy football.

“Ever since he started with this program, we have seen improvement in all areas; his motivation to be in school is to do his job,” Lieb said. “He has become so independent he doesn’t even want people opening the doors for him this semester. He is really developing that self-determination for what he can do. A lot of times when you have students with multiple disabilities, they doubt their futures; they don’t know what they can do or how they can work. This has given him a sense of possibilities for the future.”

Grier said Sheldan has been a positive influence on the program as well.

“He always has a smile on his face and brings a lot of light to any situation,” Grier said. “And he works hard. He has helped the staff grow together daily.”