The games keep getting bigger as we plow into the final weeks of the college football schedule.
Well, in most places.
There’s a pretty big one in Columbus, Ohio this Saturday. Ohio State and Michigan State battle for supremacy in the Big Ten’s East Division.
Why, it’s so big College GameDay will be there.
And that’s just fine with Barack Price. The 13-year-old travels to all the Spartans’ games. This week it will be a three-and-a-half-hour drive from his home in Greentown, Indiana.
He’ll be cheering for his brother, Josiah, who happens to be the Spartans’ starting tight end. And he’ll be providing inspiration as well.
“Barak, everything is a little bit hard for him,” his father, Tim, told Mike Wilson of scout.com. “So, he works really hard and always has a good attitude, and never gives up. There’s a certain amount of inspiration and encouragement being around him.”
“He always has a smile on his face,” Josiah told Wilson, “and always wants to play football, wants to play basketball. Whenever I’m around him, I can’t help but smile.”
Barak (pronounced like the army living quarters) was born with hypotonic cerebral palsy. This form of the disease results not in spasms, but in diminished muscle tone. A child with the disease appears floppy, like a rag doll; the muscles are overly relaxed.
Since Barak’s brain doesn’t communicate properly with his muscles, any physical movement can be trying and tiring. Speech is difficult, hearing diminished.
“He won’t really get a lot of glory in sports,” Josiah told Dan Murphy of espn.com recently. “That’s not what his specialty is going to be, just because of the way he was born.”
But that doesn’t keep Barak from loving sports. Especially his Spartans. He’s even become part of their pregame ritual. At home games, players have always rubbed the feet of the Spartan statue for good luck. Now they also share fist bumps with Barak.
“He really loves the guys,” Josiah told Wilson. “Everyone on this team knows Barak is my little brother just because he is the happiest little kid in the world.”
The kid with the Spartan green and white hearing aids presides over the players’ families’ pre-game tailgates. By all accounts, Barak is the life of every party.
The Prices usually arrive in East Lansing on Friday night, and Barak gets to hang out with Josiah and his teammates. “He just loves football, loves Michigan State, and is always so happy!” quarterback Connor Cook told Murphy. “When you see a kid like that, he makes you happy. I know Josiah always talks about that. When he’s having a hard day, and goes home and sees Barak, all of the sudden he’s in a good mood.”
Josiah confirmed Cook’s assessment. “For me, the biggest joy is just getting to hang out with him, because I cherish every moment I have with him, just to see how happy he is,” he told Wilson.
“A lot of people who have challenges have compensating mechanisms,” Tim told Murphy. “For him, it’s just his dynamic personality. It’s amazing the way he interacts with people.”
Especially his brother. Greentown is so small that it has more churches than stop lights. The high school graduating class usually numbers about 100. So, during his last two years of high school, when Josiah used to drop Barak off at school, carry him across the parking lot, and hug him by the front doors, people noticed.
“When Josiah, a three-sport athlete, brings his little brother to school, and shows love and affection to him, it’s pretty special,” Tim told Wilson.
When Josiah left Greentown and arrived in East Lansing, amid a student body of 50,000, he felt a little overwhelmed. He thought seriously about returning home and working at his dad’s car dealership.
Barak convinced him otherwise. “To see the amount of happiness me playing here gives him, that’s my biggest motivation,” Josiah told Murphy.
So Josiah toughed it out. In the 2013 Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium against undefeated Ohio State, he caught the winning touchdown pass from Cook.
Just nine months later, Barak’s fifth grade team got to play on the same field, before a Colts exhibition game. They scored a touchdown, and drew up a play for the two-point conversion. They threw to Barak, who caught the pass for the score.
Barak immediately raced to the sideline to find Josiah. “I’m just like you!” he exclaimed. “I caught a touchdown at Lucas Oil!”
Barak has since retired from football. “I couldn’t live with myself if he got hurt,” Tim told Wilson. But he remains president of the Josiah Price Fan Club.
“He’s kind of like Superman,” Barak told Wilson, “except he can’t fly.”
Perhaps not. But as long as these brothers have each other, the sky’s the limit.