From those on the outside looking in, Tyler Senchuk only appears as the YRHS Raider Gridders football team’s water boy. But inside the locker room, he is regarded as an inspiration, their biggest fan, and of course, a friend.
“Being our water boy is just the start of what Tyler does for the team,” said Raider Gridders head coach Roby Sharpe on Senchuk. “The players see how much he loves football and would love to play, but that he can’t because of his learning disability. They see this and it inspires them to give it their all and not take this game for granted because not everyone is fortunate enough to play it.”
Senchuk fell in love with sports, especially football, at a very young age. It seems the combination of his passion and 6-foot frame would have made him a great athlete, but his autism spectrum disorder has forced him to the sidelines. He hasn’t, however, let his circumstances bring him down. Instead, he has made the best out of the hand he’s been dealt, inspiring many people along the way.
“It’s great to see him make the best of his situation – the guys take notice,” said Sharpe. “You know on the team some guys don’t have the athletic tools as others, but seeing how Tyler does the best in his situation, I think it helps them not get down and just keep on working.”
Football isn’t just a game to Senchuk – it has ultimately became his lifestyle. In the classroom, at home and anywhere else, he loves talking about the sport, and especially his favourite team - the Raider Gridders.
“He can’t get enough of football,” said Tyler Senchuk’s father, Wayne. “He looks forward to every Raider Gridder football game and always talks about it before and after. It’s great because it gives him something to look forward to and he truly feels a part of the team.”
Senchuk, 21, has become a fan of many Raider Gridders over the years. But one in particular, Dalton Fichtner, really made an impact in his life last year before graduating and joining the Regina Rams.
“He has really looked up to Dalton Fichtner,” said Wayne Senchuk. “Dalton was one of those kids who didn’t care what other people thought so he had no problem with putting his arm around Tyler in the hallway. He really was a true friend of Tyler. And he definitely became one of Tyler’s favourite players.”
I found out firsthand how Senchuk’s mind is always on football. When I met him at the high school before the season even started, he was already wearing his orange Raider Gridders jersey. I later found out it’s rare to see him without his coveted sweater on.
“My daughter, Lacy, told me it doesn’t really matter what shirt he wears when he leaves the house because he’ll be wearing his football jersey at school,” said Tyler Senchuk’s mother, Shannon. “He doesn’t want to take it off – he loves the team and being a part of the team that much.”
Before even mentioning football to Senchuk, he started talking about the Raider Gridders. He didn’t sound like a water boy, though, more like a recruiter. The first thing he said to me was I ‘should try out for the team.’ He went onto to tell me, not knowing I’m over the age recruitments, ‘maybe you could run the ball for us.’
This year’s football season is especially exciting for Senchuk because of Yorkton Minor Football’s new program ‘Getting in the Game.’ The organization has raised money for specials needs students like Senchuk to travel with high school sports teams on road trips.
“He’s excited to travel with the team,” said Shannon Senchuk. “It will be a great experience for him. We totally understand that it wasn’t possible before because of funding and that they didn’t have enough chaperons traveling with the team. But with the new program, it’s great that they’ve made it possible for him to go to out of town games.”
As far as the big picture of Senchuk’s life goes, his parents believe his time with the football team and in the high school has really sped up his journey to becoming an independent adult.
“He has really grown a lot in the school and with the team,” said Shannon Senchuk. “They have accepted him for whom he is and that has helped his confidence and just helped him be him. It’s very valuable in the process of him becoming independent and we’re very thankful for all they have done.”