Edinboro Athlete Shines as Advocate for Young People with Disabilities
As a member of the Edinboro University football team, Ryan Stratton founded the 12th Man Tradition, which brings students with disabilities to Edinboro as team members for the day. (photo by Greg Mizak)
You might see Ryan Stratton popping up almost anywhere on Edinboro University’s campus. Just don’t expect to find him sitting still.
Stratton is a football athlete, middle-level math and special education major, and Reserve Officer Training Corps participant pursuing a minor in adaptive leadership and military science. In February, he was awarded the University’s inaugural Dr. Joseph Laythe Award for championing social justice on and off campus.
This summer, Stratton was one of 22 student-athletes across the nation who were selected for the 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
The award spotlights the incredible stories of selflessness and community service displayed by the student-athletes, and honors their dedication to volunteerism and enriching the lives of others.
Among these and numerous other activities, one of Stratton’s most high-profile achievements was introducing the 12th Man Tradition to Edinboro last fall. The tradition brings students with disabilities and children battling cancer to the sidelines of home football games and into the locker room with the team.
Stratton is humble and quick to credit his teammates and the Fighting Scots football program with the immediate success of the 12th Man Tradition.
“We chose a kid for every home game, and they came on Friday night to our team meetings,” he said. “When they arrived, they would get a signed football from all of the players and also an Edinboro football shirt. They would come back on Saturday and stand on the sideline for warmups and the game. They actually ended up cheering louder than some of our players.”
After the season ended, Stratton planned a banquet for 12th Man participants to bring them together with his teammates one additional time. Parents who attended were effusive in their praise for what Stratton did for their children, but he insisted he actually benefitted significantly from the experience, noting that it inspired him to realize there is more to life than just football and getting an education.
“Reaching out to the community and using the platform that I have been given has been a tremendous experience for me,” Stratton said. “It has been amazing to see the guys on our football team interact with the kids when they come to team meetings and games. We truly have some amazing guys on our team, and I’m so thankful and blessed to be a part of the team.”
During the spring 2017 semester, the Smethport, Pa., native completed his field teaching experience and worked with a local school district for pre-service teaching. Stratton, who expects to graduate in 2019, said the field experience was the most challenging experience of his time at Edinboro so far.
“You are basically starting to become the teacher and taking control of the classroom,” he said. “The EU education program is wonderful and challenging, but if you are passionate about teaching and kids — as I am — then it is great. Also, the professors in the School of Education truly care about their students.”
In addition to football and activities associated with his majors, Stratton participates in EU’s strong and growing ROTC program, through which he has signed a contract to continue service as an Army officer upon graduation. A devout Christian, he also is involved in several church groups and Bible studies, including Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Edinboro chapter of the campus ministry Chi Alpha, and Campus Crusade for Christ worship services.
“Edinboro University has always pushed me and provided me with a lot of wonderful opportunities,” Stratton said. “Every campus runs the same, but it’s the people who make the difference. The people at Edinboro are truly what have helped me focus on my goals and reach my highest potential. They have always pushed me to do my best and always given me guidance and direction.”
And what is next for Stratton after his busy time at Edinboro University comes to an end?
“I plan on commissioning as an aviation officer in U.S. Army to travel and gain leadership skills,” he said. “After the service, I think one of my dreams and goals has been to start a charity for kids battling cancer and kids with disabilities. The 12th Man opened my eyes to this dream, and I really have a heart for kids. The look on the kids’ faces when they showed up to the football game was priceless. It is something that I would love to see the rest of my life.”
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