BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – The unfamiliar can make us feel anxious, uncomfortable, even nervous. But it can also provide us with unparalleled opportunities to learn and grow.
We can’t learn from things we’re familiar with.
Tyler Hoffer has learned a lot from playing football. But a lot can be learned from Tyler Hoffer playing football as well.
Hoffer is a first-year senior offensive lineman on the Annville-Cleona football team. Hoffer suffers from a social disorder known as autism.
Though it may have been difficult at first, football has helped Hoffer become more social, more integrated. And what Hoffer has taught his teammates is that we are all different, and all the same.
“They treat me like another guy on the team,” said Hoffer of his teammates. “No one special. A fellow player. A fellow brother.
“I’m not sure they even know that I’m autistic,” continued Hoffer. “It doesn’t come up. But it’s not something I’m ashamed of admitting.”
“I think they knew in the beginning, and I think they took him under their wing right of way,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich of Hoffer’s autism. “They don’t treat him any differently. They ride him. They get on him, and he gives it right back. He is completely one of the guys.
“You have all these stories that are bad,” Gingrich continued. “We have this kid who shows everything in the right way. He’s advanced himself, despite whatever he’s got going on. I think football helped him. Being involved in a team and family, and in an outdoor event, has caused him to be more social.”
As defined by Merriam-Webster, autism is: a variable developmental disorder that appears by age three and is characterized by impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate with others, and by stereotyped behavior patterns
Autism is believed to be biological in origin, and seems to be related to several milder conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome. As many as 1 in 100 children, mostly boys, may have autism, Asperger’s, or a related condition. About one in ten autistic children turns out to have a remarkable mental gift, such as the ability to play a difficult piece on the piano after a single hearing or repair a complex machine without any training. Many autistic children seem to grow out of it as they become adults, and some autistic adults manage to live independently.
“I can try,” said Hoffer, when asked to explain autism. “But it’s the only thing I’ve ever known. What I’ve read about it, I think differently about social situations. It makes it harder for me to socialize. I don’t get social cues. Body language is difficult for me. People pick up on things I don’t.
“Part of that is because I worked at it a very long time to be normal,” added Hoffer. “No one has to work for their social ability. But I have to work at it.”
“He’s Asperger’s, which is a higher functioning form of autism,” said Cody Dodson, Hoffer’s emotional support teacher at Annville-Cleona. “It’s usually a social disorder. It’s so broad you can’t give one definition. Some guys are non-verbal. He’s so high functioning, which is Asperger’s. He helps others too. But most of all he’s confident. It’s not a fake thing.
“It’s social things,” Dodson added. “Things that don’t bother us. Things like standing in the rain. He hates two-hour delays because it interrupts his schedule. And when he gets obsessed with something, he makes sure he does it.”
Last season, Hoffer served as a manager for the Little Dutchmen football squad. But sometime during the off-season, he decided he wanted to take a more hands-on approach to football, so this season he came out as a player.
“Basically, since I’m autistic, I’ve had trouble socializing,” said Hoffer. “Last year, someone told me the football team needed a manager. They sort of welcomed me with open arms. Like I was part of the family. It was fun. The duties weren’t always fun – they were like a job – but nevertheless I enjoyed it. The reason it was fun was because of the people I was around.
“I saw how everyone was practicing with all that energy,” added Hoffer. “It looked hard, but I like challenges. I began working out and lifting weights. And I decided I wanted to play. I liked the life lessons, the responsibility, the team work. All that stuff. And I thought it would be good for my health.”
“He went to Joe (assistant coach Heckard) one day and said, ‘I’m playing,'” said Gingrich. “I was like, ‘OK, we got our manager back’. But he want to camp with us. And since then he’s just kept going and going.
“We were just trying to get kids into the weight room,” Gingrich continued. “When we first saw Tyler we said, ‘Hey, you’re going to the weight room.’ It was just us trying to get kids involved in any sport. I think the reason these kids are flourishing is because we want them here. It’s neat to see other kids who haven’t dealt with adversity and they’re kind of like, ‘Hey, life is pretty good.'”
Hoffer is not dumb, slow or unintelligent. In fact, quite the opposite.
He is well-spoken, calculating, intuitive, and one of Annville-Cleona’s brightest mathematics students.
“I don’t know for sure, but I’ve read that people with autism are better at mathematics,” said Hoffer. “Even when I was young I was good at math. When I don’t like something, it’s hard for me to make myself do it.
“I’m currently shifting between two different things (to do after high school),” Hoffer continued. “But I’m leaning towards a degree in mathematics, or a mathematics-heavy field like physics.”
“He came in as a ninth-grader, half-day and half-cyber,” said Dodson. “His parents were concerned about his transitioning back into public school. But he’s very polite. He’s very respectful. The social pieces he’s picked up on his own. He had more friends.
“The potential was there, but it wasn’t developed,” continued Dodson. “But his development was affected by his social skills. I stress to all my kids to get involved with activities.”
So while it’s true that Hoffer has come a long, long way, one can’t help but wonder exactly the role that football has played in his development.
“My favorite feeling is when you win a game or score a touchdown or make a big play,” said Hoffer. “You jump up and down and scream ‘Yay!’.
“A lot of the reason (for his improvement) is my best friend, Austin Dakota-Keller,” Hoffer added. “He’s a person I’m very inspired by. He was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and he’s been fighting ever since. I do appreciate him, personally.”
“He helps them as much as they help him,” said Dodson of Hoffer’s teammates. “I think he sets the bar high for others. When you do that, it’s tough for other people to complain.
“I don’t think he wants to stay on the same level,” continued Dodson. “He wants to keep building. I’ve never seen him rattled. I’ve never seen him upset. There’s not a goal that he sets that he doesn’t give everything he possibly can towards it.”
“He’s become a very social kid,” said Gingrich. “He’s really come a long way. He has a lot of friends, even outside of football.
“He inhales opportunities,” Gingrich continued. “It’s like a buffet. He want to eat more and more. We have a lot of kids who say they can’t do anything, and he’s the exact opposite. The beautiful thing is he has an excuse and won’t take it. He is what you hope kids want to be. He’s quite an example for all kids in school.”
To purchase images in this article email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2016 Annville-Cleona Football Results
|7:00 PM||L 27-55|
|7:00 PM||W 35-30|
|7:00 PM||L 34-54|
|7:00 PM||W 35-26|
|7:00 PM||W 27-21|
|7:00 PM||W 36-21|
|7:00 PM||Columbia High School|
|7:00 PM||Annville-Cleona High School|
|7:00 PM||Pequea Valley High School|
|7:00 PM||Annville-Cleona High School|
Section Three Standings
PIAA District Three
Class AAA Power Rankings
|11||Eastern Lebanon County||2-||3-||0||0.420026||0.424242||0.414873|