The Chelsea Bulldogs football team are going through their warmups at Ford Field in Detroit on a frigid late November day as they prepare to face Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the Division 3 State Championship game. It is the first time the Bulldogs have made it to the championship game so the players are taking it all in. Although focused, they are enjoying every minute of it. But one player walks around and seems to be really appreciating it more. Maybe that is because he is grateful to not only to be able to be walking on this field but he is appreciative to be able to be walking at all.
Senior Austin Boatright was born with a clubbed right foot. In many cases it can be treated but the treatment is very brutal.
“Every week until I was a year old the doctors had to break my ankle and they would cast it and then continue the same process for a year,” said Boatright. “My parents (Michael and Jamie) had the emotional part of dealing with hearing the screaming and crying when they broke my ankle. That must have been so hard for them to hear their son scream like that. They did my first operation when I was like two years old to lengthen my heel cord. And they did multiple surgeries to try different things to fix my foot.”
Many people with a club foot, even after treatment, still struggle to walk normally, let alone be able to run and play football. But football is Boatright’s favorite sport and he’s been playing it since he was 8 years old. It’s his favorite sport and he wasn’t going to let anything hold him back.
“I had to battle back from the surgeries to get some sort of muscle in my leg so I could play football. And two years ago was the biggest surgery I have ever had. I was put under for eight hours and they did a reconstructive surgery to my ankle. I couldn’t imagine what my parents were going through at the time knowing that I was put under for eight hours and them not being able to see me,” said Boatright. “I overcame these surgeries by keeping in mind what my parents said to me. That I’m no different than anyone else and to push yourself to new limits, and to just fight. They said “don’t let your foot take over, you just gotta push through the pain.” Honestly, the only reason I’m this far is because of my parents. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be doing any sports, I would probably be sitting in a room by myself asking why it had to happen to me.”
Boatright likes to prove others wrong. If you tell him he has limits, he will show you otherwise. He has learned to believe in himself and never give up. And he has a strong support system with his friends and family, including his younger sister ShyAnn, a sophomore this year who is a Chelsea cheerleader and was at the championship game on the sidelines cheering for her school and her brother.
“Knowing my little sister is on the sideline makes me feel so good,” Boatright stated talking about her cheering for the team. “I love her with the deepest love that a brother can have for a sister because she has been there every step of the way with me. She helped me through my past surgeries by getting food for me, hanging out with me when friends couldn’t, and her getting my medicine when I woke up screaming in the middle of the night in pain. She is just one of the best people I could ask for as a sister. It feels amazing when I look over and see her cheering for us to win our games on Friday nights.”
Boatright, who plays on the defensive line mainly at end, enjoys playing on the line up front. It’s a great way for him to be tested in his strength and competition.
“I tried many different sports and football was the one I just fell in love with,” Boatright said. “Many people would never give me a chance because of my foot and people have told me for so long that I wouldn’t be able to play any sport and I love proving people wrong. This season I am going to help the team by putting my best effort forward in getting the starters ready for the games and doing the best to try to become a starter.”
In 2015 when his Bulldogs went to the state championship game he was there every step of the way. And when he wasn’t playing he was supporting hs teammates. And although he didn’t start, he was always ready to rotate in when his team needed him.
“The state championship was the best thing that has happened to me so far because of how much I’ve been through and it makes me feel so good hearing “Oh your not going to be able to play any sports or your not going to be able to walk,” Boatright reminisced. “It was the icing on the cake making it there. We might not have won but to me personally, it wasn’t about the winning or losing, it was just being able to play football period.”