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Herriman Journal

12th Sentinel program at Mountain Ridge scores a touchdown for inclusion

Oct 12, 2023 10:42AM ● By Peri Kinder

Mountain Ridge High School football players Lincoln Twilley (left) and Bridger Butterfield (right) join 12th Sentinel Madi Doman (center) as captains before a junior varsity football game against Lone Peak. (Photo courtesy of Shelley Swain)

What started as a tragic loss has blossomed into a transformative program, where high school football players forge bonds that go beyond the boundaries of ability. 

In 2013, Travis and Mandi Jacobson’s worst nightmare became reality when their 18-month-old son’s life was cut short. Tate had been born with multiple disabilities including Moebius Syndrome and he had only one hand. But his older brother, Hunter (who is now 14), was always looking for ideas that would allow Tate to hold a bat or carry a football. 

Five years ago, the Jacobson’s were searching for a way to help their nephew, Porter Robins, get support at school. Porter has Down syndrome and the family worried about him getting bullied and being excluded. With Tate and Porter in mind, the Jacobson’s created the 12th Sentinel Program.

“We decided to start this program [with] the football players and these kids with special needs. The football players could look out for them, protect them, give them guidance, just kind of help them out at school,” Travis Jacobson said. “Seeing how this program has taught those kids resilience and how to overcome adversity has been incredible. It’s tough to be around our 12th Sentinels and not feel their strength and the love that they have for everybody around them. And it’s been incredible to see how those [football players] have learned from that. They’ve become stronger themselves.”

Porter’s brother, Brody, is a teammate with Hunter on the Mountain Ridge High School football team. While the program creates connections for people with disabilities, the football team is learning how to stand up for those with special needs. 

MRHS head football coach Mike Meifu was on board with the program immediately. He’s come up with ideas to incorporate the 12th Sentinels into the team. For instance, during each home game, one 12th Sentinel goes out for the coin toss with the team’s captain, the Sentinels give the players high-fives before each game, they each have a team jersey to wear and they are invited to team dinners.

“I think it's awesome. It’s way cool to see all the kids. They’re always so happy and a joy to be around. So it’s way fun and I love it,” Hunter said. “It includes all the kids who can’t play football due to disabilities, and it’s a way for them to have a place to go and feel protected and confident.”

The program is open to anyone with disabilities. There are currently more than 30 12th Sentinels, with ages ranging from 4 to 19. The experience in the program is catered to each individual’s disability and allows them to be involved in the best way possible. Some kids want to run in a touchdown, others want to be treated like a coach. 

The Jacobson’s hope to grow this program and expand it to other schools. The benefits to both the individuals with disabilities and the football players has far exceeded expectations. 

“When we lost our son, Tate, I loved that my kids were learning how to look out for someone with special needs,” Brandi Jacobson said. “I love this program, what it’s teaching our family and our own children. I love the relationships we’ve built with these 12th Sentinels and their families. You get out so much more from it than what you put in. Those friendships have changed our family’s lives.”

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