Last finds opportunity, acceptance in football
October 10, 2012
In many respects, it is a difficult story to tell. It reflects heartbreak, perseverance, toughness, dedication and triumph.
Yet it is a tough way to walk through these challenging times. One cannot help but sit back and admire the manner in which he was raised. From firsthand experience, this story is not an easy one to craft. However, there is no doubt that it is one of the most important editorials on this year's edition of Nevada Union football.
It is so different, so unique that it is difficult to know where to begin.
Joshua Last was the first child of Melinda and Tom Last. He was born in Oroville.
As delicate as it is to convey this, Joshua was born with special needs. Frankly, when he entered our world, he had a small brain. This was the tough hand the Last family had been dealt. There was no way to sugar-coat it.
At first, he did not breath well. There were developmental delays. His ability to sit up and walk were slow in progressing. He had difficulty holding a bottle. There were challenges that made his existence tough. Tom and Melinda knew he was not blessed with normal skills.
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Tom remembers, "It was tough. We were trying to figure out what was going on. How do we help? How do we get him engaged?"
For a long time, there was no formal diagnosis. All they knew was that things were different, that Joshua did not seem a normal child.
By age 3, Joshua was in a preshool and a head start program in Oroville. Eventually, he was held back from kindergarten. As the days turned to months, the educational gap widened.
Melinda remembers, "We both grieved. There was a certain sadness. There were things we expected that just were not going to happen."
Over the first four years of Joshua's life, the Lasts were blessed with two more children, Rachael and William. Life carried on.
The Lasts moved to Nevada County in 2003. An Individualized Educational Plan was created for Joshua at Alta Sierra School. Goals were actually set for Joshua. It was an aggressive special education program. Tom and Melinda felt they were doing the most they possibly could for Joshua.
His fifth-grade year was tough. As students advanced, Joshua seemed like he was being left farther behind.
Yet it was not all doom. Joshua made friends easily. He loved communicating with others. He went out of his way to help when called upon. As challenging as his mental growth was, his ability to work hard, stand out positively and impress others was becoming amazing.
Melinda remembered the time he helped an NID crew repair a water main. There were the Boy Scout adventures where Joshua fit in so well. His teachers admired him. They were glad he was in their class. He began standing out for many of the right reasons.
And it was a great relief for the family.
Tom and Melinda speak of the Special Education program at Nevada Union. They remark about how impressive it is. They comment on how well Joshua is accepted on the NU campus. They boast of his friends. Even during our interview, we are interrupted twice by acquaintances who have a special greeting for Joshua.
Then it amazingly happened.
Joshua had a physical education class in which the instructor was Dave Humphers. His whole life was about to switch into an all new gear. He came home and announced he was going to join the NU varsity football team.
Melinda recalls, "We thought it was a stage. We had to figure out if Dave was serious. He had said that he would love Joshua to come out and join the team."
This is, at times, an incredible place that we call home. He was accepted by the coaching staff and all of the players. Joshua beamed at being a part of the team, actually hanging out with the players. A few weeks ago, he delivered a "bone-crunching" hit that leveled one of the players in practice. Joshua was more concerned that he might have injured his teammate. However, he loved it. He soaked it in. It was a journey reserved for few.
Joshua says, "I love being around the guys, being a part of the team. It is great when we score. Warmups are always special. When Austin Marks or Ian Davis score, it is my favorite moment."
Tom Last states, "I am blown away by seeing his interaction with the coaches and other players. The reception he has received from the team is fantastic."
Melinda Last adds, "The experience has been so wholesome and nice. It is hard for him to communicate his feelings. At Nevada Union, he has a class in ag mechanics. There are great peer tutors. He receives all kinds of help. This is a great place for him to go to school."
I am not sure there is an amazingly happy ending to all of this. It is not the normal life. Joshua Last is not the average 17-year-old.
Dave Humphers calls him a wonderful young man with a big wide grin. He speaks of how his teammates love him.
Vice Principal Bruce Kinseth, who has worked closely with Joshua, remarks about how he is a very likeable student with a big smile who always takes the opportunity to wish Bruce a good day.
Joshua Last will probably never play a down for his Nevada Union football team. He is not the normal character for this column. Life may well be challenging in the years ahead.
Yes, he is a hard worker. Yes, he has had successful employment. It is noteworthy that he is working hard at completing his Eagle Scout.
He helped build the new CORR building this summer. He makes good money with his recycling "business." There are times I would describe him as entrepreneurial.
Our time is running short. Tom says, "Sometimes I wish I were as friendly as him. You learn a lot about yourself through this process. Things always work out."
For the record, Joshua Last is a senior on the NU football squad. He never misses a practice. He encourages all of his other teammates. He celebrates touchdowns like the rest. He loves warmups and savors victories even more. He looks forward to the playoffs. He is OK with the concept he may never play a down.
Yes, this is a unique aspect of the 2012 Miners. It is a story that needs to be told. There are opportunities for all on the football squad. Each player serves a role. Some may be more successful than others. Joshua Last is a richly dedicated man. He is a part of Miner Magic. It is the mystique of football in the NU foothills.
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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