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Coach makes special needs students feel like part of the team

Oct. 15, 2013 at 10:01 AM ET

Video: Paulding County High School coach Scott Hamilton has been spreading joy to special needs students through a “Player of the Day” program that enables them to particpate in game-day rituals. Parents say they are seeing the coach’s compassion spread to the athletes. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports.

Before every home game, Georgia high school football coach Scott Hamilton makes sure to add some special players to his roster.  

For two years, Hamilton has surprised special needs students at Paulding County High School near Atlanta by making them part of the team for that week's game. The "Player of the Day'' gets his own jersey and takes part in all the team activities, from the pep rally to riding the bus to the pregame dinner to running out of the tunnel on to the field. 

"It just gives them a chance to be part of something they normally don't get to be a part of,'' Hamilton told TODAY's Gabe Gutierrez in a segment on Tuesday. 

A pair of special needs students, Levi Bishop and Austin Beal, were recently selected by Hamilton to be part of the team for a game. 

"We don't get the opportunity to see our children, like everybody else does,'' Marion Bishop Fowler, Levi's mother, told TODAY. "He's opened these players' eyes. You know honestly I don't think even Coach Hamilton realizes what it does." 

"For them and us,'' Dana Beal, Austin's mom, added. 

Hamilton is out to show his players that it's about more than just wins and losses, while also promoting compassion in the school. 

"I'm trying to show these boys how to be men,'' Hamilton said. "You can be a tough guy and still have a compassionate side."

Beal and Bishop recently took the field in their jerseys with big smiles as they ran out of the tunnel with the team in the pregame. 

"It's really a highlight of my day every day to watch them come out and go through the tunnel,'' Hamilton said. 

"I like (Hamilton) because he's good to me and the players,'' Levi told Gutierrez. 

Hamilton hopes to leave a legacy beyond his win-loss record on the football field. 

"When I die, I don't want to be on my tombstone, 'Scott Hamilton, the football coach,'' he said. "I want it to say, 'Scott Hamilton, a good man.'"

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