HUMMELSTOWN – Mark Pyles has a lot of friends around town. And now, he has a buddy from Lebanon.
As part of the week-long festivities leading up to Saturday night’s Big 33 Classic football game, Pyles is involved with the event’s Buddy Program. Theoretically, the Lebanon High quarterback could’ve been matched up with just about any special-needs kid registered in the program, from all over central Pennsylvania.
But as fate would have it, Pyles has been paired up with a fellow Lebanon resident.
Meet Orrie McIntyre. Orrie is a nine-year-old boy who attends Northwest Elementary school in the city. He too is a Cedar. And he’s also Pyles’ buddy.
Decked out in a Pyles’ number-five jersey, Orrie will be in the Hersheypark Stadium stands on Saturday at 7 p.m. rooting for his new favorite player, when Pyles and the rest of the Pennsylvania boys take on Maryland in the annual Big 33 Classic. The Big 33 Classic, which has been represented with at least one alum in every Super Bowl ever played, is recognized as one of the top senior all-star football games in the country.
“Yeah, it does make it more special,” said Pyles of his and Orrie’s Lebanon bond. “I didn’t meet Orrie until last night. It just gave us one more extra connection, being from the same hometown.”
“I think it’s great for the Lebanon school district,” said Orrie’s dad James McIntyre, speaking on behalf of his son. “How often do you have an elementary student support a graduated senior from the same school district? That’s team work within the school district. That’s the buddy program. Mark and Orrie are supporting each other 110 percent.”
This Big 33 week actually marks the third time Orrie has been involved with the game’s buddy program. The past two years, Orrie was hooked up with players from Ohio, and then Maryland.
But when the elder McIntyre learned Pyles was to be a part of this season’s game, he requested him for Orrie’s buddy. The two met for the first time at Lower Dauphin High School, after Pennsylvania’s evening practice.
“I called them and told them, ‘We want Mark Pyles,'” said the elder McIntyre of the Big 33’s powers-to-be. “They contacted me and said, “We’ll do the best we can’. We thought it was the perfect opportunity. Orrie’s having a ball. I think he’s more into it this year than last year. We definitely have a good player. I think it’s about time Lebanon actually got into this game.’
“It was pretty cool when I first met Orrie,” said Pyles, a record-setting and highly decorated quarterback headed to Bucknell to play linebacker. “When they called his name, he put my jersey on. It was a good feeling. Practice has been pretty serious, but this is the fun stuff, just meeting our buddies.”
Orrie suffers from a form of autism, as well as diabetes. He is a vibrant kid full of life who shares Pyles’ passion for football.
“It seems like he has a lot of energy,” said Pyles of Orrie. “He seems like a fun kid to be around. I knew about the buddy program since I’ve been coming to the (Big 33) game. When I was notified about being in the game, it just solidified my feelings about it (the buddy program). I knew it would be a fun experience.”
“Orrie loves football,” said Mr. McIntyre. “All he was saying this week was football, football, football. He can just catch, and stuff like that. But actually, he has a good arm. If he was capable of playing football, I’d definitely sign him up.”
Heading into Saturday’s game, there was some question as to which side of the ball Pyles would perform on – his former or his future. But no matter which one it turns out to be, Orrie will be backing him all the way.
“Practice is going pretty well,” said Pyles. “We’re finally putting it all together. We’re starting to look pretty good. I really like being around the guys, and it’s good competition.
“I’ve been working a little bit at linebacker because we have some guys missing, but primarily I’m a quarterback,” continued Pyles. “That’s fine with me. It’ll likely be my last time playing quarterback. I’ll make the best of it.”
“Actually, Orrie is pretty decent at the games,” said McIntyre. “He’ll be introduced before the game, and once he finds his mother (in the stands) he’ll be OK. Once he gets focused on something like his buddy, he’s pretty good. We get rowdy.
“I would encourage all the students with special needs in our school district to look into the buddy program,” concluded McIntyre. “I think Lebanon should stick together, and support our students.”
And is that what’s really all about?
Lebanon County’s Big 33 Participants