Thomas E. Moran is an assistant professor of kinesology at James Madison University.
Keshequa alumnus featured in cerebral palsy documentary
Thomas E. Moran, a member of the Keshequa Central School graduating Class of 1999, will be returning to his alma mater on Friday, June 8 to attend the premiere showing of the 27 minute documentary ‘Why Me!’
The film is a biographical sketch which tells the story of how Moran has overcome the affliction of cerebral palsy and has gone on to base his life’s work upon helping others do the same.
The showing of ‘Why Me!’ will take place on Friday, June 8, at the Keshequa Central School Auditorium at 7 p.m. It is open to everyone free of charge. Tom will be there to talk about the film and answer questions.
Tom was raised on Wildey Road in Nunda, the oldest of three sons of Rick and Pam Moran. His handicap has limited his physical mobility, but has never dampened his enthusiasm to participate and excel.
At Keshequa Tom determinedly made his way from class to class on crutches. At graduation he academically ranked seventh in his class and was a full-time participant in extracurricular sports in any area he could serve — as a manager, trainer and scorekeeper.
Tom got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physical education at SUNY Cortland, overcoming the skepticism of an administration which initially told him his handicap would make the degree unobtainable. He was the very first SUNY Cortland graduate with a physical disability to obtain the full P.E. degree, also serving as the university’s assistant soccer coach. Tom then attended the University of Virginia on a full scholarship, where he earned his doctorate in kinesology, the study of the physiological, mechanical, and psychological mechanisms of human movement. Today Tom is an assistant professor of kinesology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, training health and physical education teachers.
In that position, Tom has been able to promote concepts of inclusion for children whose handicaps were often considered too severe to allow physical play. Tom’s ‘Just for Kicks’ soccer camps are just such a program.
When a colleague at James Madison University in the College of Media Arts and Design saw Tom’s work with disabled youth and learned of Tom’s own struggle to achieve his status in the professional world of academia, he proposed the documentary film.
“I agreed to do it on the premise that the film highlight not only my life, but the programs we’ve been able to run,” Tom told The County News in an interview last week. Tom is featured in the film by way of family movies and still photos, but the emphasis is on the principle of inclusion of the disabled.
“My experience growing up was that I was never allowed to play sports,” Tom said. “I was not able to play baseball and soccer, yet that was what all my friends were doing. I was in a segregated physical education class. I had to find a way to get involved.”
Yet, growing up with the limited opportunities in Nunda, often Tom’s only option was to get off the sidelines and into the regular game with his peers.
“If I wanted to hang out with anybody, I had to get up and move. I was fortunate that my group of friends would always include me, whether I was actually in the game or they just wanted me along.”
“I had many wonderful teachers and coaches,” Tom continued. “They told me, ‘You can still play in practice — then maybe be an assistant coach and manager. I wasn’t able to carry the towels and water bottles, but I was able to manage the players.”
In high school Tom insisted upon stepping out of his limited physical education activities into a regular P.E. class with his friends.
Teacher Martha Blair agreed.
“She said we’d make do. I’m not sure if she knew what we would be doing, but I am fortunate to be able to communicate, so she’d often rely on me to come up with the ideas,” Tom said. “This is about giving kids opportunities. Whether they grow up in small town Nunda or Washington, D.C., we all have a burning desire to get into the game. Whether the game is high school soccer or challenger baseball, we want to get out on the field.”
Interwoven with the story of young Tom overcoming his disabilities are current scenes of young people doing the same in Tom’s sports programs. Tom hopes the film will empower children and families wherever it is shown; inspiring the notion that a disability is not an automatic ticket to the sidelines.
Plans are in the works to distribute the film to PBS stations, and possibly ESPN.
The philosophy behind Tom’s programs has the sport being modified to accommodate the player but also the player modifying himself to accommodate the sport. Tom explains:
“There are ways to modify the task and train people to be successful without totally changing the game. But if we have to, we do change the game, because this is all about opportunity.”
“You can modify the environment. You can modify the task, but you oftentimes can’t change the learner. I maximize the abilities I have but minimize all those challenges. Balance is a real issue.”
“For example, I don’t want to play soccer on a big field. I want to be on a small filed where I can spend more time in contact with the ball.”
Some of the programs end up being for disabled children exclusively, while others mix disabled children with their nonhandicapped peers.
An ultimate victory for such a program is when nonhandicapped individuals, out of interest in the modified sport for itself, recognize the challenges and want to play. Wheelchair basketball is an example of such a modified sport in which nowadays a nonhandicapped person is welcomed.
Tom is campaigning to make wheelchair basketball and other disability sports recognized as official intramural sports at James Madison.
“In many ways I have been able to be a ground breaker. My methods aim at overcoming barriers and empowering people. That’s what I hope this film will do.”
“It’s not all about me, but by people seeing me, the may realize, ‘Hey, I need to do something!’”
“Regardless of your ability or disability we all face challenges in life,” Tom believes. “You can see them as hurdles or barriers.”
“Barriers are designed to hold people back. Hurdles are made to jump over. The choice is yours.”