Sydney Wilson is a girl of very few words.
Just ask her. Or her mother, Tracey.
Sitting on the concrete steps by the bleachers near the Mechanicsburg bench, Wilson kept a smile on her face, answering any question in an enthusiastic manner.
Ask her if she thinks field hockey is the best thing in the world. "Yes!" she says without pause.
The Mechanicsburg senior has Down syndrome, but that hasn't stopped her from doing the one thing she loves more than anything: playing field hockey.
After her friend Alex Rebman, a 2017 Mechanicsburg graduate who currently plays for Lynchburg College, took her to a field hockey camp during the summer of 2015, Wilson was hooked. Older sister Emily also played, further fostering a love affair with the game.
"Sydney is all about pushing boundaries and getting involved, so I thought, 'Why not field hockey?'" Rebman said. "I knew she was a natural. She had the biggest smile I had ever seen when she held that stick for the first time."
Kari Bianchi, the Wildcats' head coach from 2010-2016, then talked to Wilson's mom about Sydney joining the field hockey program.
"It was Coach Kari who said, ‘Do you think Sydney would like to play field hockey?’ And I’m like, ‘Absolutely, that would be great,’" Tracey said. "Then she would be on a team where she could learn how to be supportive and learn sportsmanship and all that stuff."
Rebman grew up with the sport and enjoyed spending time with Wilson off the field, so much so that she wanted to have Wilson by her side on the field as well. Watching Wilson develop in field hockey has been something Rebman really enjoys.
"Watching Sydney grow over the past few years has been something truly special," Rebman said. "She developed confidence in herself and a passion for the team. She grew into someone who made people love field hockey for all the right reasons that are often looked over.
"I am forever grateful to experience playing with her and to be a part of something greater than just the sport itself."
The Wildcats' field hockey program provided Wilson her first team sport. She had to learn all the fundamentals of the game and of being a teammate: shooting, passing, how the team practices, how to build relationships with teammates. Once all the fundamentals and team bonding exercises had been mastered, Wilson's objective changed to something even more exciting: score a goal.
That's when Lower Dauphin entered the picture.
Bianchi, who still helps Tonya Brown, the new Mechanicsburg coach, and Falcons' legendary coach Linda Kreiser have known each other for a long time. Soon after Wilson began practicing, the two coaches talked about getting the newest Wildcat onto the field during a junior varsity game.
"We’ve known each other for years and she had asked me, ‘If the JV’s would happen to get a lead would you put Sydney in and let her score?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely, that would be fine,’" Kreiser said. "The joy that we get from watching her and how happy it makes her, it’s just worth it. It’s worth it."
Wilson scored her first goal against Lower Dauphin during a game in September 2015 at Lower Dauphin.
The Falcons and Wildcats have since made it an annual tradition, and Wilson's love for field hockey has only grown through the success of scoring goals. For three years running, the JV teams have found a moment where the 20-year-old Wilson can enter and score, with cheers and applause ringing from both benches.
During each goal, Lower Dauphin's players act out guarding Wilson as she moves down field with the ball. Then the goalie struts her Hollywood chops, acting out dramatic dives as Sydney delivers a shot on target. And scores.
"It’s really kind of cute," Kreiser said with a smile. "The first time they did it, our goalie did a dive and I never told her to do that, but it made it look even better. The goalies that have been in now, they let the ball go in and they dive to make it look like she really hit the corner."
"Lower Dauphin has been very supportive and they all, both teams together, support her," Tracey said. "That’s really good because it builds up her self-esteem and it’s a good thing all around, to see how the players react and how happy it makes them."
Wilson scored again against the Falcons on Sept. 15, and the team tweeted out the video, to immediate fanfare. Inside Edition picked up the story and gave it national coverage after the tweet went viral.
"We really get excited. Sydney is like part of our tradition, too, now," Kreiser said.
In addition to her annual scoring prowess, Wilson also teaches the players and coaches around her skills that are arguably more important and just sportsmanship and teamwork.
"Having her on the team is a blessing," said Brown, who has known Wilson through church since she was a young girl. "She teaches us something new every day about appreciating life and the ability to be here, and she keeps us in perspective about what’s really important in life. She always brings a smile to everybody’s face."
According to Brown, that appreciation is what helps her players stand out among their peers.
"They interact with her very, very well. I can say that that’s one of the things that I’m really proud about with our program is that they not only are friends with her on the field, but they’re friends with her off the field," Brown said. "They’re there for her during the school day. They’re very unselfish and very giving, which isn’t the norm of our society today where you have 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds. I think it’s a great thing."
Mechanicsburg goalie Eileen Besselman, among Wilson's closest friends on the team, has known her for four years.
"No matter what, she always brightens my day on and off the field," Besselman said. "At school she always runs up and hugs me, and at practice she is always drawing pictures on the sidelines and practicing her scoring shots.
"She loves all of the team and I'm so thankful that I have gotten the chance to be so close with Sydney throughout these past seasons."
There are few things that dampen Wilson's spirit. According to Brown, the heat is one of Wilson's worst enemies, especially during summer practices.
"It’s actually a good situation because my players then have to forget about the heat that they’re dealing with and try and help Sydney deal with that," she said. "It takes them out of their element and help another person, so it’s teaching them a lot about life. It’s not about yourself; it’s about the team as a whole."
Mechanicsburg's final game was Tuesday against Chambersburg — a 2-1 loss on senior night. The Wildcats end their season at 4-14, 2-8 in the Mid-Penn Keystone.
Both the team and Wilson's mom hope to see her continue to interact with the field hockey community and supporting the team at games after she graduates this year. For right now, Tracey isn't sure what's next for Sydney, but she hopes that telling her story will help other parents with special needs children.
"Even after she graduates we want to keep this going, we want her to come to the games, support the team and be there to cheer them on," Tracey Wilson said. "It’s good to see and it shows parents with kids that have special needs that you can’t put limits on them. You have to go out and let them try it at least, because you never know what they can accomplish until you let them go out there and try."
Brown couldn't agree more.
"I hope she stays local and that she comes back to our games and comes to our games to be our biggest cheerleader," Brown said. "It is going to be hard for her when the senior class leaves because, obviously, they’ve been around her for the past three years and they are her closest friends. It will be hard, but everybody knows her in our community, so if we can get her back on the sidelines we would love to have her on the sidelines.
"She loves the game, she loves the kids, and the kids all love her."