Son’s hard work make every day a gift for father

Bill and Taylor Rosenthal in the field house at Oak Hill Academy.
Staff Writer

Oak Hill Academy football coach Chris Craven was headed out to mow grass at the football field Monday and stopped to give a visitor a fist-bump.

Later baseball coach Mitch Bohon stopped in the field house to talk about a weekend golf tournament. He got a high five from the visitor.

The visitor really isn’t a visitor at all. In fact, in less than a year he’s become part of the Oak Hill family. And in many ways, an inspiration.

Taylor Rosenthal will turn 25 next week. He and his dad, Bill, played golf Sunday. In fact, they played Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A lot of fathers and sons probably did as part of the Father’s Day weekend.

But at one time, Bill Rosenthal thought he’d never see the day Taylor would play a sport or even reach the age of 25.

For him, every day is like a Father’s Day gift. And every day, every fist bump and high five, he appreciates even more.

“I’ve thought about this a lot. Things have changed in 25 years. The proper name Down Syndrome is now better understood. At the time, we had a teacher who told us to be happy if he could go to the bathroom by himself,” Bill Rosenthal said as he sat in a coaches office at Oak Hill with Taylor sitting just a few feet away.

“Father’s Day was pretty special,” he added.

Rosenthal spent more than 30 years coaching football and teaching, starting at Corinth High in 1987, going to Shannon where he won a state title, and eventually getting into administration in Lafayette and Lee counties, where he eventually became principal at Shannon High.

He retired a couple of years ago, but it didn’t last long.

When Oak Hill Academy Elementary School principal and athletic director Phil Ferguson was looking for someone to help with the Raiders’ football team, he reached out to his long-time friend.

Rosenthal accepted, first helping coach last year while substitute teaching some. This year, he’ll be teaching math while serving as the team’s defensive coordinator.

He’s not worried about the transition back into the classroom.

“Math really hasn’t changed much over the years. Just the technology,” he said.

“I don’t know that kids are different, I think it’s just their access to technology that makes the difference. I still think that when it comes down to it, teaching, like so many other things, is about building relationships.”

And if he does find it challenging, he only has to look to Taylor. In fact ,Taylor and his younger sister both are models for him.

Tyler, Linda and Bill Rosenthal’s oldest son, shined on the golf course, playing at Itawamba Community College. He went on to be a manager with the football team at Ole Miss, being a part of the team that defeated Alabama in back-to-back years.

Tyler, now 28, recently was named to a job at Amite County.

Their younger sister, who recently graduated from high school, was born without hip sockets. She spent the better part of three years in a body cast and wheel chair following surgeries.

She worked — worked hard.

She recently was named an all-star.

“They said she might not walk,” the proud father said of her competitive spirit.

“I introduced the players to Taylor last year. I wanted them to understand how fortunate they are. It’s hard for me to tolerate people with ability who won’t work their hardest, try their hardest to make the most of that ability,” the coach said.

“Set expectations and work toward goals, whether it’s in the classroom, baseball, football, whatever.”

Taylor is that shining example.

He comes to the school every day with dad, helping with everything from washing uniforms to working around the field or field house. One night last fall he was helping line the football field at 1 a.m.

“Not many kids would do that,” Rosenthal said.

“And everyone here at Oak Hill has been so receptive.”

But there’s more to Taylor.

He loved sports at a young age and played T-ball up until he was 11 or so when some of the other parents were upset about an older child playing with younger kids.

As an 8-year-old, he made the state Special Olympics in track and field. As it turned out, he wasn’t a big fan of the sport.

While at the games, he and dad explored the other Special Olympics programs.

They found golf.

And with big brother’s love of the game, history began to write itself. And even more, every day became a Father’s Day gift.

“I thought that was something we could probably do together,” Rosenthal said of the alternating shot format used in Special Olympics golf.

The next year he started teaching him with Tyler’s help. They started out right-handed, the same as Taylor playing baseball. One day Taylor turned around and started hitting left-handed. Turned out he was a southpaw.

“We were playing at Okolona the other day and he out drove some of the older men. There’s hardly a time when he’s not in the yard swimming a club. He works hard at it,” dad observed proudly of the son who had open heart surgery when he was six months old.

In the years since, the pair has won a silver medal at the World Games in Los Angeles in 2014, a gold medal at the National Games in Seattle and numerous other competitions, including the gold at the state Special Olympics in May.
And they’ve traveled together, road-tripping to Seattle, New Jersey and other destinations because dad “doesn’t do the flying thing well.”

That includes stopping in Omaha last year on the way to Seattle to see Mississippi State play in the College Word Series and at Mount Rushmore. On the way to New Jersey they toured Washington D.C.

“There have been all those places I probably wouldn’t have gone, all those moments we’ve shared,” he recalled.

Big brother Tyler helped with his little brother’s game and still plays with father and brother when time permits. Tyler, too, provided a special Father’s Day moment a few years back, scoring a hole-in-one in a tournament on Father’s Day.

Like many golfers, Taylor loves to hit his driver. But the best part of his game may be his putting.

And while golf is his passion, he plays other sports, too.

“I play flag football and basketball,” he chimed in.

They go to Oxford on Wednesdays for flag football in the fall and basketball in January and February. His team won the football title last fall.

He’s not as big on soccer since it’s played outdoors in the dead of winter. He, instead, swims competitively in the Special Olympics programs.

The more they talk, the more dad keeps coming back.

“The closer he gets to 25, the more I’ve thought about it, about how special it all is. Twenty-five years ago, the terminology, the expectations, to think ‘oh boy, we have another son’ to then think about him never hitting a fast ball, having open heart surgery. It took it awhile to sink in,” Rosenthal stated.

“But we’ve been lucky. Except for one or two, we’ve had really good teachers, teachers who would meet us at 7 a.m. to work on reading or late in the afternoon for math.

“It’s all pretty special.”