Patrolling sidelines and working from the pressbox, Belton manager helps football team improve

BELTON, Mo. -- Teams without determination don't win high school football games.

Even diehard fans of the Belton Pirate football team (0-2) know you have to work hard to find a spot on the team. When one of Belton's best asked to join, coaches say they knew they had someone special.

"They tossed the ball to Bart, and then, Bart threw it," Jon Coots could be heard whispering as he worked on Wednesday.

It's not a long pass, but a long lens, that helps Coots, a high school junior, flex his football muscles. He's worked as a team manager at Belton High School for two years, using his Sony handycam to record every practice and game.

"My second semester of my eighth grade year, I asked one of the coaches if they needed a manager," Coots said.

Two years later, Jon is still at work with his camera, working both sidelines and the pressbox. Pirate players learn from the video Jon generates, as coaches use his work to help players improve.

"If they didn't have me to film, they wouldn't have anything to see," Coots said.

When you see Jon, you also see his wheelchair. Coots was born with an advanced form of spina bifida, which leaves him dependent on his wheels or crutches to get around. Jon explains that his back didn't completely close while he was in the womb, leaving him unable to walk without extreme pain.

However, Coots is anything but weak. Earlier in 2017, Coots left his wheelchair and took on a weight bench, competing against able-bodied athletes, setting a national high school bench press record in his weight class, lifting 187 pounds for Belton's weightlifting team.

"It's probably just the rush I get when I beat my goal. It's all that adrenaline," Coots said.

His Pirate teammates stand in awe of Jon's strength, including the muscle that comes from within.

"He's always positive. He's never saying anything negative. He always has a smile on his face, and everyone seems to love to talk to him," Bart Harris, Belton starting quarterback, told FOX 4 News.

"Filming and being able to evaluate film in practice is invaluable as a coach. It's a part of our process and part of our getting better. Him not being here would be a disadvantage to us," Todd Vaughn, Belton's fifth-year head coach, said.

"I just tell them, 'Treat me the same as you would anyone else'," Coots said. "I still have to work for stuff."

Jon's journey continues next week as he'll have the latest of many surgeries to remove scar tissue from around his spine. Coots says he's having the procedure to help ease pressure on his back, which could help him walk more freely. Coots was on the sideline for Friday's game at Liberty High School, as Belton lost to Liberty 43-17.