Sparta senior Tyler Eaton has pretty typical hobbies for a high school student.
“I love video games, I play many video games. During the summer, I like to fish a lot. It’s hunting season, so I like to hunt,” Tyler said.
He certainly shares those hobbies with plenty friends.
“I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like him,” said Sparta Head Coach Larry Brown.
“We go to other towns and stuff and there will be guys who’ll say ‘Hey Tyler’ and I go ‘who’s that?’ and he’ll say ‘I don’t know, just a friend of mine’,” said Tyler’s dad Raymond.
Tyler also loves basketball.
His Sparta Trojans teammates will tell you he’s the most crucial member of their team, despite never taking a shot in a game.
“Probably preschool, I started noticing I was different,” Tyler said.
Tyler was born with spina-bifida and has limited use of his legs.
Still, you’d never know it if you didn’t see him with his walker.
“There’s no reason to complain, I can’t help it,” Tyler said. “So there’s no reason to complain every day about it.”
That approach makes Tyler much more important to the Trojans than any ability on the court.
“He’s just an inspiration to all of us,” Brown said.
Typically, you’ll find Tyler working the sidelines as team manager; motivating in his own way.
“He’s always involved, he’s always saying something like ‘you guys need to pick it up or you’re shooting like crap today’,” said Sparta senior Justin Luttrull.
Tyler’s impact on his teammates is reflected in his impact around school.
“As important as he is to our ball team, he’s equally important to our student body,” Brown said.
Tyler commonly boosts those who meet him, but his parents say it wasn’t always so easy.
“I guess when the kids would be playing ball and stuff like that we knew it would be different for him as far as sports and stuff like that,” Raymond said.
So Tyler’s parents made sure he would always view himself just the way any other kid would.
“I think for one, he’s a miracle,” said Tyler’s mom Ozie. “And two that it could be worse, it could be way worse.”
That’s something Coach Brown often reminds his players of.
“Whenever we think we have big problems or practice is too hard, [I tell them] I know Tyler would kill to be out there,” Brown said.
Now Tyler has his sights set on less-typical goals than most kids his age.
“I want to be a teacher and a coach and coach basketball,” Tyler said. “Hopefully here back here at Sparta. That’s one of my dreams is to be a coach back here at Sparta again.”
It would be a fitting stop down a path that’s been anything but normal, but Tyler knows what makes him different can be a uniting message for us all.
“Don’t let anything ever limit you. You can do whatever you want, you’ve just got to push yourself to do it.”