York Suburban coaches invited Ayden Kohler, who was diagnosed with brain cancer last month, to coach the team during Tuesday's practice. Zach Miller - GameTimePA.com
Ayden Ziegler-Kohler wished for a chance to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers, and York Suburban coaches delivered him the next best thing.
Ayden, a 9-year-old from Springettsbury Township who was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer last month, "lives and breathes football" according to his family. On Tuesday, he got to coach the Trojans.
Sitting in a wheelchair, wearing an orange York Suburban shirt and playbook wristband given to him by the team's coaching staff, he watched as the team prepared for Friday's home game against Northeastern.
Programming note: You can watch Northeastern at York Suburban live at GameTimePA.com
He softly called a few plays during offensive huddles with the help of coaches. And he told his step brother, junior receiver/defensive back Pearce Bloom, to give him 20 pushups after dropping a pass.
“It’s wonderful. He brightens up so much whenever he comes out here," Ayden's step mother, Cathy Kohler, said. "To brighten his day and lift his spirits are the most important things right now.”
Ayden also received two gifts sent from Thomas Merkle, the 2015 GameTimePA.com YAIAA offensive player of the year who set the county passing record while at York Suburban and now starts at quarterback for Kenyon College. Ayden aspires to break all of Merkle's records, and on Tuesday received a signed photo of his hero and a Kenyon College shirt from Merkle's mother, Michele, who is the superintendent of the York Suburban School District.
The gesture of allowing Kohler to coach the team for an afternoon is just the latest kind act for the boy from the local community. He also led the Central York team out of the tunnel before its win on Friday. The Eastern York County Blackhawks program, which Ayden started playing for in first grade, encompasses both the Central York and York Suburban school districts.
“The community has been amazing and such a help," Bloom said. "People just coming over to see Ayden give him moral support and that’s the biggest thing we can ask for.”
Bloom also started a GoFundMe page to raise money to help Ayden, which received more than $13,000 in donations in the first 18 days. He's also sold wristbands with the words "Ayden's Army" etched into them, and started a Facebook page with the label "4AydenStrong."
The No. 4 in "4AydenStrong" signifies the number Ayden wore while playing football, and has become a number that holds special meaning to both the Trojans and Panthers. The Central York players held up four fingers to the crowd as the final buzzer sounded on their victory Friday.
"We always (hold up four fingers) at the start of the fourth quarter," York Suburban coach Andy Loucks said. “Now it has a little bit different of a meaning than what it used to be before.”
As Ayden continues to fight through his cancer, he hopes that his next coaching stop will be Pittsburgh.
“He was so ecstatic to be able to come here and do this," Cathy Kohler said. "He’s moved up coaching in very short time. The first day out of the hospital he got to coach his pony teammates at a scrimmage. Now he’s a high school coach and hopefully (in October) he’ll be able to meet the Steelers. He’s moving on up.”