When it comes to being a Petaluma High School football fan, Aiden Spillane is an All-Leaguer. In fact, he might be in a league of his own.
Spillane, now a sophomore at Petaluma, is actually more than a super fan — he is now part of the team, serving as water boy, charged with making sure the players stay hydrated through the long and sometimes very hot games. He takes his duties seriously and does them well despite having to overcome polymicrogyria (PMG).
PMG is a condition characterized by abnormal development of the brain before birth. PMG can exhibit different symptoms, but often, as in Spillane’s case, displays many of the same symptoms as cerebral pasly — swallowing and speech difficulties, reflux, seizures of varying degrees, development delays, lack of muscle coordination and impaired cognition of varying degrees and cerebral palsy.
As a result of his disease, Spillane has trouble with motor skills, including the use of only one hand and, although he understands speech, he has trouble verbalizing his thoughts. But when it comes to expressing his feelings for Petaluma’s football Trojans, he has no difficulty making his feelings known.
“I love them,” he says through signs interpreted by his father, Brett Spillane.
Aiden’s involvement with the Trojans began when he was about 6 years old when his father began taking him to Petaluma High games as a way for them to do something together and to give his mother, Jobbie, Aiden’s primary caregiver and self-made expert on PMG, a little time for herself.
“It gives us a chance to do a father and son thing,” says Brett. “It is something we enjoy and can do together. It gives us a chance to bond.”
Their excursions started with home Petaluma High School football games, but has grown to include wrestling matches and baseball games.
Home football games have expanded to include away football games and even some Santa Rosa Junior College football games.
Petaluma High football coach Rick Krist recalls traveling to a playoff game at Alhambra in the East Bay. “I looked up in the stands and there was Aidan and his dad. They had gotten to the game before the team did.”
Krist gave Aiden a Trojan cap and T-shirt and he began feeling like part of the team. His father asked the coach if there were something Aiden could do to help out and a new water boy was added to the team.
“It’s not hard,” he says.
But, with the use of only one hand, it can be challenging at times and his father will literally lend him a hand. “We need to be sure the players stay hydrated. That is the most important thing,” his father says.
Aiden and his parents say the players have not only accepted, but embraced Aiden as a team member.
“They are really nice,” Aiden says of the players.
“The players have been great to him,” his father adds.
Krist explains Aiden’s Trojan status best:
“He is part of our football team,” the coach says.