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Vision challenge doesn’t stop Pop Warner player

September 9, 2015
By Chuck Ballaro ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

Wyland Way, like every member of the North Fort Myers Pop Warner Junior Midget program blocks, runs sprints and other drills.

Observant fans might notice a few additional details - his teammates talking to him before plays and, every once in a while, some assistance with positioning.

Wyland is legally blind but he neither brooks nor needs any sympathy.

Article Photos

Wyland Way, 12, a football player for the North Fort Myers Pop Warner Junior Midgets, does a blocking drill during a recent practice.


In his first year playing Pop Warner football, he has had a blast playing the game and plans to continue playing into high school and maybe beyond.

He enjoys the camaraderie with his teammates, who have taken him in, shown him the ropes, and made him a Red Knight.

Wyland has also been an inspiration to his teammates. No longer do you hear them complain about aches and pains when their teammate is playing with a serious vision impairment without complaint.

"I've coached a lot of kids with a lot of different things. We've never coached a blind kid. The kids have taken him under their wing and made him part of the family," Junior Midget coach Christopher Reeves said.

Wyland's parents sensed something was wrong shortly after his first birthday when he dropped his binky on the floor and had to feel around to find it.

A doctor diagnosed him and the parents were told he was going to go completely blind. He would have to go to special schools to learn how to live with blindness.

"I learned I had it when I was 3. Ever since then it's been a problem," Wyland said.

It was later discovered that he wasn't blind and wasn't necessarily going to become blind. His life was going to be limited, to an extent, but he wasn't looking at a life of darkness.

He was diagnosed with Leber's, a genetic eye condition passed from the mother to the offspring that leads to loss of sight.

Wyland has 20/200 vision, which is legally blind. He can make out visions of people and colors, and some days he does a little better. But usually, he's very shortsighted. When you shake his hand you usually have to tell him you're sticking your hand out.

"I can see better out of the side of my eye. I can see the guy on each side of me. I can also see the guy in front me, but not as good," Wyland said.

Night is the worst time for sight, especially on this night where practice was held at the First Methodist Church in Fort Myers (the community park field was flooded), which has no lights. His father brought along to practice a set of lights, which Wyland's grandfather gave him, that he pulls with his truck, with a generator, to help Wyland see.

"He'll never be able to drive a car or catch a football, but he can get around bodies. He can see the image of a different colored jersey and some days he can see us," Charles, Wyland's father, said. "But some days he can walk up to us and it might take a few minutes to figure out who is who."

Wyland wasn't happy just sitting at home. He wanted a challenge.

"I've always wanted to play football, but I had to play flag because they didn't want me to get blindsided. Finally, my parents said I could play because I was big enough to where if I got hit, the doctors said it wouldn't take out my vision."

"I met his dad at the parents meeting. He wanted to try football and his parents said he could give it a shot," Reeves said.

"Everybody else was doing it and he wanted to be like anyone else and we never told him he could play. Finally, we let him," Charles said. "I played football, his uncles and cousins played football."

The only position he could play was the interior line, where he would be in close quarters with his opponents.

Reeves decided he wasn't going to tell the players that Wyland was blind until it was time to start practicing in pads.

Some of the kids figured it out or already knew, but when Reeves told the team, they thought it was pretty cool and adopted him as one of their own.

It has created some challenges.

During blocking drills his teammates had a tendency to take it easy on him, which Reeves stopped in a hurry.

It also means a different way to communicate. The team uses signals from the sidelines, which Way can't see. His teammates have to tell him where to block and where the opponents are.

"They tell me to go left, right, straight, what the count is. They tell me there's a lineman in front of me," Way said. "They seem fine with it. I hope I inspire them."

His hard work has shown. Wyland has lost 14 pounds and gained plenty of muscle in his short time on the team. He hustles in every drill and during sprints. Even though he does lag behind his more experienced players, the maximum effort shows.

Josh Varner, one of Wyland's teammates, said playing with Wyland is inspiring as he gives his all in practice and is doing what he loves.

Josh was also the person in his ear during drills.

"I tell him to keep pushing hard. He's doing well and maybe I help him a little. I like to motivate him," Josh said. "I hope the other players are inspired."

Wyland isn't a starter yet. He plays the minimum amount of plays required by Pop Warner. In his first play of his first game against North Port, Wyland got a lesson the hard way, getting drilled by a Mustang player.

Wyland smiled, and hasn't stopped grinning since beginning to play. Besides, the Red Knights won.

"It was one of the most fun things I've ever done. The first play I didn't see the guy in front of me because my teammate forgot to tell me and I got knocked over," Wyland said.

Wyland hopes he can continue his football odyssey, maybe even play in college.

After watching him on the field, Charles believes his son can do anything he sets his mind to.

"He is my inspiration. I do everything for him. He's the reason our lives aren't crazy. We do everything for him so he can do the best he can do," Charles said.



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