Volunteer coach overcomes injury and helps others
The Hillsboro High student section looked about as downtrodden as you would expect after the Spartans got thumped 66-6 against cross-town rival Century High last Friday night.
There was one Hillsboro supporter who had a little perspective on that game, though.
Ellie Stele watched the game at Hillsboro Stadium from his wheelchair.
Stele has been a unofficial volunteer with the Hillsboro football team for the last two seasons. He began coming to Spartan practices and helping out with defensive backs when his brother, Arbie Stele, became an assistant coach at Hillsboro.
I work with them (the defensive backs) on footwork, style of playing and the knowledge of the game, Ellie Stele says.
During the game, Stele did not talk to the Spartan players. As he sat on the sidelines, though, he quietly cheered Hillsboro on, even as the game quickly spiraled out of control.
In between begging the Hillsboro defensive backs to pick off long passes, Stele took a few moments to talk to me. His story was one of loss, of courage, of hope, and of passion. It reminded me of how lucky I was to be able to walk around the sidelines. It also reminded me of how lucky every single person in the stadium was to be able to watch a high school football game.
Steele went to nearby Beaverton High, where he played wide receiver and defensive back. After high school, he planned on joining the military. Before he could, though, a night in 2004 changed his life forever.
The simple details that Stele describes are chilling. He says that the rain was pouring down. He was driving his Toyota too fast. He lost control of the car. It spun off the road and crashed into an embankment. He was thrown out of the car.
Stele suffered a massive concussion in the crash. When he awakened, he learned that he had fractured his T-3 and T-4 vertebra. Since then, Stele has been in a wheelchair.
Stele could have given up. That would have been the easy thing to do, though.
He was the baby of the family, says his brother Arbie. But he was the strongest.
Eight years later, Stele is still in a wheelchair. But he has made progress.
I have film of me taking steps, Stele says. I have pictures of me standing and using a walker.
Think about that for a minute. A football field is 100 yards long. That is 300 feet. Teams are rewarded for crossing that distance and making it into the end zone.
For Stele, though, taking just one step is worth far more than six points.
Some day Stele would like to become an official football coach. His ideal position would be with a peewee football team. Right now, though, his focus is on rehab. But, on Friday nights, you can bet that Stele will be at the Hillsboro football games.
Ive been doing this (coming to high school football games) since I was a little kid, Stele says. Its embedded in me.
Hearing Stele talk about how much he loves high school football reminded me of all the reasons why I love covering prep football games. Theres the crowd, the bands, and most importantly the Friday night lights.
Those lights were not flattering as they shined down on Hillsboro last Friday. But, the lights showed Stele so clearly.
At halftime, Hillsboro was losing 59-0. As I walked around the sidelines, I saw that Stele had moved to the corner of the field. He admitted that he was thinking about leaving with the game having turned into such a blowout.
Stele did not budge, though. He stayed and watched the game until the clock ran down to zero.
Hillsboro lost. Badly. But, Im thinking that Stele knows there are much more important games to win.
Returning from this injury, the odds arent on my side, but theyre not completely against me, Stele says. Its slim, but its possible.
That gives you hope. With hope, you have to have faith. I have faith that Im going to return from my injury.
When that happens, heres hoping that Im around to again see Stele beneath the Friday night lights.