What started with a thought turned into a conversation and an act of sportsmanship that will resonate from Fair Oaks throughout the valley for years.
Del Campo High School led East Union of Manteca by six touchdowns late in the fourth quarter of a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff game Thursday when Cougars athletic director Sharon Props saw No. 15, Vinny Torrice, on the visiting sideline.
Torrice is a gregarious 17-year-old senior who has Down syndrome. He dreamed of playing football, and his parents allowed him to suit up this season. But he had yet to play.
Props approached Del Campo coach Mike Dimino and passed on her idea. Dimino called a defensive timeout and walked across the field to talk with East Union coach Willie Herrera.
Let Torrice have his moment.
To cheers of “Vin-ny! Vin-ny!”, Torrice entered the game and took a handoff. Players from both teams escorted him to the end zone on his 27-yard touchdown run as time expired in Del Campo’s 49-13 triumph.
Fans from both sides stood and cheered. Some cried. His teammates and Del Campo players mobbed him as he spread his arms in joy. He received a victory ride. On this night, no one lost.
East Union players said they never viewed Torrice as a special-needs kid. They saw him only as a teammate. And Del Campo players didn’t see Torrice as an opponent who has Down syndrome but rather as an inspiration.
How can anyone think about being lazy when Torrice appreciates every bit of every day?
“We can’t,” said Del Campo quarterback Tyler Dimino, the coach’s son. “That play was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and it shows how much this game means and can bring people together.
“I talked to Vinny after the game, and he said, ‘Thank you!’ I thanked him. He was the happiest kid I’ve ever seen. He’s going to remember that moment for the rest of his life, and we’ll remember it, too.”
“I had no clue (this was going to happen),” Vic Torrice, Vinny’s father, told The Record of Stockton. “I’m still shaking. I never dreamt of this for my son.”
Herrera praised coach Dimino and Del Campo after the game, saying, “They just showed so much respect. It was awesome.”
Vic Torrice said players from both sides “are heroes” to his son.
Torrice’s touchdown run will long be remembered.
“To see his face, you can’t help but feel happiness for him, and seeing all the things I’ve seen in my life (working for the California Highway Patrol), awful things you never want people to see, it was special,” coach Dimino said. “After the game, both teams did a prayer.
“There were no white or red or blue jerseys. We were one, together. It was beyond football. These were the best moments of our season.”