When selling tickets at the gate or handing water to football players from his motorized wheelchair on the sideline during games, Mordachi Simon experiences high school like any other Dayton student.
But Mordachi isn’t just any student.
“Mordachi knows he is different,” his mother, Roberta Simon, said. “A few years from now that’s what Mordachi will remember. He will remember Dayton football.”
Mordachi doesn’t travel with the team for road games, so he won’t be on the sideline for Dayton’s game 7 p.m. Friday in South Lake Tahoe, but few people want the Dust Devils (0-6, 0-6 in Northern 3A) to come home with a win more than Mordachi.
Referred to by administrators and school staff as Dayton’s “number one football fan,” Mordachi has lissencephaly, a rare brain malformation.
“It basically means smooth brain,” Roberta, 59, said. “He doesn’t have the dips and valleys that we all have on our brains. He doesn’t have the ridges.”
Mordachi, 20, also has cerebral palsy.
He’s one of 21 adopted children living in the Simons’ home in Mound House. Each child has special needs. Roberta describes six of her children as “total care,” or constant care, children. Most are associated with fetal alcohol or drug syndrome. Ages range from 5 to 38.
Roberta understands her obligation to care for her adopted children, but she avoids coddling them.
“I won’t be here forever,” she says as Mordachi moves out of his wheelchair and into a backseat in the family’s van.
The license plate on the back of the van reads “Momof21” with a plate holder, “Boys 18 Girls 3.”
Her husband, Merrill, a retired Army guardsman and reservist of 41 years and current computer technician at the Nevada Department of Transportation, is soft-spoken compared to Roberta. When asked if his wife is a stay-at-home mom, he reminds people, “If she was a stay-at-home mom, she wouldn’t put 25,000 miles on our car each year.”
Sports, especially football, are important in the Simon household. A Dallas-native, Roberta is a diehard Cowboys fan. She attended Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas, with a daughter of legendary Cowboys head coach Tom Landry. She likes to note she met Landry on several occasions.
“He’s grown up in a football home,” Roberta said of Mordachi. “He is passionate about football. He’s passionate about the Dallas Cowboys and he’s passionate about Dayton.”
Throughout much his life, Mordachi has wanted to play football with other children his age.
That wasn’t possible, and it often proved tough for Roberta to even get him on the sideline with teams.
“There are coaches that don’t work as well with the special students,” Roberta said. “And sometimes you feel like you were kicked down as a parent because we couldn’t make this happen. And for us to sit at every game when we have so many children at home, that was not going to happen.
“And so this summer I found out that under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), if they (the school) have a one-on-one (paraprofessional), they have to provide a one-on-one for any extracurricular activity that Mordachi wants to be involved in. So that kind of gave me my ace-in-the-hole to get him involved in sports.”
Last year Dayton head coach Tom Eck helped Mordachi get on the sideline for Dayton home games and this year head coach Pat Squires continued that tradition as part of Mordachi’s individual education program (IEP).
“We as a team feel it’s an inspiration that this young man loves coming to our games,” Squires said.
Debbie Day, Mordachi’s paraprofessional, described Mordachi as a well-liked student among his classmates.
“He is kind and sensitive and comforts people when they are distressed,” Day said. “He is intuitive. He senses things. He is a great sportsman. He loves football.”
Mordachi communicates more with his facial expressions than words, which includes a beaming ear-to-ear smile.
He’s also filled with emotion, especially watching a Cowboys game or a recent incident when two of his siblings — who went against family tradition to be New England Patriot fans — dressed Mordachi in a Patriots’ shirt.
“At first he seemed OK with it, but after a while he became rather indignant,” Roberta said, as Mordachi shook his head in agreement.
For Mordachi, who graduates from Dayton after next school year, football is more than a sport; it’s a door to a unique high school experience that otherwise was not possible.
“I think this connection, this year and next year, are going to be the best high school years we could have ever asked for him,” Roberta said.