The heart of a team
t's hard to miss the fact that Mark Lukitsch loves football. He has a Green Bay Packers license plate on the back of his motorized wheelchair.
Just past his 13th birthday, he also enjoys being a member of the seventh-grade football team at Oltman Middle School.
Lukitsch wears an Oltman hooded sweatshirt, instead of pads, helmet and uniform, and played in two football games this season.
With the admiration of his teammates, Lukitsch carried the football and sped down the field in his wheelchair for a 99-yard touchdown in the first game against Cottage Grove Middle School. He also scored in a game against Woodbury Middle School.
"He's our best running back," said his friend and teammate Zack Wills. "He's a friend of everybody."
Head Coach Dave Schirra said he attended every practice this season except the one when it rained.
"He's a rallying point for the team and is always upbeat," Schirra said. "He's just a great kid."
Lukitsch is modest about his contribution to the team and lets players who are shaken in a game lean on his chair when they come to the sideline.
"It's fun and it's something to do after school," he said at the Oct. 15 game against Cottage Grove Middle School.
He carries the kicking tee when not in use and leads the call and response cheer by the players before they start the game and before they return to the field after halftime.
After eighth grade, he'll go to Park High School, where he plans on being equipment manager for the football team, he said.
Lukitsch knows his football stats. His team is 4-5 this season, but it's not getting him down. He cheered for the team on nearly every play.
His mother, Lisa, said her son knows a lot more about football than she does, but she's always there when the family gathers around the television set to watch the Packers play football.
Several years ago, Lisa, Mark's father, Dan, and older sister Megan, took Mark to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., for a pre-season game.
They also made sure he attended Park High School homecoming for the past three years.
"He feels he's part of the Oltman team," Lisa said. "He has a good sense of humor and people are drawn to him. After the Woodbury game, all the players came over to 'high-five' him."
Lukitsch has had muscular dystrophy since birth, his mother said. He has the intelligence of kids his age and doesn't have the type of the disease that is degenerative so he can expect to live a normal life span.
"People assume when you're in a chair that you're low-functioning," Lisa said.
Lukitsch gets help from his teammates and coaches, but he's also a positive contributor to the school community, according to Principal Becky Schroeder.
"It's not about what we do for him," she said. "It's how he makes us better."