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'What a road he has taken...'

Matt Beaudry, #31, with his family, from left, sister Breanna, parents Julie and Dale Boadway, sister Casey and brother Cody. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
September 01, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- Julie Boadway was one of many football fans in the stands Aug. 28, watching the Brandon Junior Blackhawks on their way to an easy home win over the Lapeer Steelers.

Suddenly, it became more than just a game as she saw the boy wearing jersey #31, her son Matt Beaudry, take to the field for the extra point. She watched in wonder as 10-year-old Matt took the ball in his hands and began crying as he ran into the end zone for the extra point and then as he grinned and high-fived coaches, teammates and the referees.

In a game that ended with a 35-0 Blackhawks win, it was an extraordinary moment, made possible by teamwork— not just the efforts of one team, but of both teams, who have been taught the importance of kindness and helping one another.

"This is less about football and more about life," said BJB Assistant Coach Dave Kochan. "This is about life and struggling through the hard times and achieving something bigger than the individual and preaching team... Matt has had a challenging upbringing and he loves football, it's the one thing that motivates him to want to do better. He was given a chance to shine for a moment and be in the spotlight."

That single point had no effect on the outcome of the game, but to Matt Beaudry, his family, his teammates, coaches, and friends, it was a winning moment in a life that has had far too few.

Matt's mother, who was Julie Boadway's cousin, died in August 2008 from a prescription overdose. Matt's father died two months later. Matt's cancer-stricken grandmother was unable to care for him and his brother, James. Their uncle took James into his home and Julie and Dale welcomed Matt into theirs, joining their other three children, Casey, Breanna and Cody.

"Were you scared?" Julie asked Matt Monday as they sit at the kitchen table. He shakes his head no. "It's OK if you were," she smiles, as he nods and says, "Yeah."

Matt had physical challenges to go along with the emotional devastation of losing both parents. When he came to the Boadways, he had 176 pounds on his 4-foot-9-inch frame. The extra weight was caused by a kidney disorder he was born with known as nephrotic syndrome. His kidneys do not process protein correctly and as a result, his body had retained excessive water. Matt got his weight down to just under 100 pounds, normal for his height and age, with sodium management which Julie and Dale keep a close eye on. But he had yet another challenge— he was born with outward-pointing feet, a condition known as "outtoeing."

In November 2009, two days before Thanksgiving and after he'd finished his first season with the Junior Blackhawks, in which they won the National Youth Football League's Super Bowl, Matt went to the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, where doctors broke his right femur. The next month, he returned and they broke his left femur to correct the issue. The next step is correction of his feet and ankles, although Julie is hopeful that can be fixed with orthotic inserts, and not surgery.

"We started by fixing his head, then went to the kidneys, then the legs, now we're on to the feet," she said.

When Matt came to the Boadway family, he didn't talk much, says Dale. 'Yes' and 'No' were the extent of what he would say. Matt says he was too shy, but football took care of that. It helped with his anger, too.

"I was angry, but they let me take out my anger on the football field," he said.

He is improving, too. Before the surgery, Matt said he "ran like a penguin."

"The hardest thing to get through is my legs," he said. "I have to learn how to walk and run again. I like running. It doesn't hurt."

Matt, who plays defensive back, had difficulty learning to get into a three-point stance when he started on the Junior Blackhawks. Julie remembers the day last year when the coaches, unaware of Matt's special challenge with his legs, were yelling for him to get down lower.

"He told them, 'I know I can't get lower, but I will next year after they break my legs,'" she recalls, laughing. "They were like, 'What is going on with this kid?'"

The coaches and the team are all behind Matt and Dale and Julie note that it is a group effort to raise a child. They say they could not have done it without all the support of the Blackhawks and of the teachers and staff at Belle Ann Elementary, where Matt will be a fourth grader this year. Matt was officially adopted by the Boadways in June.

"What a road he has taken," said Lapeer Steelers Coach Lenny Gosciniak. "Everybody has his challenges in life, and he had his at a young age. Football emulates life—the hard work and dedication to the sport, the ability to work with others, it all comes out in life. You're down and out and sometimes things don't go your way and you have to adjust in life and be successful... This will definitely go in my memory book. I wish the best of luck to him."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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