YARMOUTH — Jared Conant may sit on the sidelines, but that doesn’t mean he’s not part of the team.
The 12-year-old Yarmouth resident has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a terminal genetic disease that progressively degenerates and weakens muscles. But being in a wheelchair 95 percent of the time doesn’t stop him from being involved with local soccer teams.
Jared and his father, Barry Conant, are hosting the second annual Conant Cup on Thursday to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, for which Jared is the Maine ambassador. The charity soccer tournament will take place at the turf field at Yarmouth High School.
“With Jared’s love of soccer and the town’s passion for soccer, I thought this would be the perfect venue,” Barry Conant said.
The event starts at 3 p.m. on Aug. 25, when 16 teams from southern Maine schools will compete. Unlike regular soccer games, the games will be 25 minutes long and will be played seven on seven. The full field won’t be used and will instead be split into thirds so several games can take place at once.
There will be boys’ and girls’ champions, with each winning team receiving a trophy. The tournament is only open to junior varsity teams, because – like his son – those teams are often overshadowed, Barry Conant said.
“Kids with diseases … are always on the sideline of life,” Conant said.
There is no fee to play in the tournament, but each player is asked to make a donation. Conant said some schools cover the cost; last year the Conant Cup raised $4,000.
Tyler Technologies, the corporate sponsor of the event, donated $2,500 both this year and last year. The Yarmouth technology company is also in the midst of an expansion that will add more than 500 local jobs.
“With their growth in the community, they really want to get involved, and we’re grateful they’re able to help us put on this event,” Conant said.
The whole community is very supportive of the event, and of Jared, he said.
“There’s a real interest in soccer and there’s a real interest in helping kids like my son out,” Conant said.
Soccer is an important part of Jared’s life, and, up until a year ago, he was still able to play.
“It was the first sport I played and the first sport I was introduced to,” he said.
Despite not being able to physically play anymore, Jared will still be on Yarmouth’s U-13 team this year. He will receive a uniform and will sit next to the team bench during games.
“I like getting to watch the players play,” Jared said. “It makes me feel involved.”
Jared also stays involved by doing statistics for the YHS varsity team with his dad. This will be their third year, and the players said Jared means a lot to them.
“He’s definitely helped rally the troops,” Conor O’Donnell, a soccer player who graduated from YHS this June, said. “He’s a great kid to have on the sidelines.”
O’Donnell said Jared is a positive presence for the players and always knows how to cheer them up. Fellow YHS alum Walter Conrad agreed.
“He’s the kind of kid who keeps us focused,” Conrad said.
The soccer players aren’t the only ones who benefit from having Jared on the sidelines.
“It’s a two-way street,” Barry Conant said. “We draw energy from being around soccer.”
Positive energy is vital for the Conants. In addition to Jared’s disease, the family has also had to deal with the loss of his mother to cancer. Barry Conant, who is a cancer survivor, said his wife died when Jared was very young.
Conant said people in town are very supportive of them and that’s what makes the Conant Cup a success.
Being supportive of Jared is easy, O’Donnell said, because he works hard to help others.
“A kid his age having such a big impact on the community is huge,” O’Donnell said.
Barry Conant said everyone in town knows his son, and the pair work to make sure people understand his disease. Educating his classmates at Frank Harrison Middle School is important because it keeps kids from treating Jared differently.
“I don’t want kids to be afraid of what they’re seeing,” Barry Conant said.
Whether at school or on the high school soccer team, local youth are very welcoming of Jared, Barry Conant said. Without those friendships, Jared’s life wouldn’t be the same.
“His disease isn’t good for him, but if he didn’t have other kids around him, that’s what would kill him,” Conant said.
A shared love of soccer is just one way Jared stays connected to other young fans and to the town.
“We’re committed to this town and student athletes,” Conant said, “and they’re committed to (Jared).”
Jared Conant, 12, who is the Maine ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, is holding a charity soccer tournament Aug. 25 in Yarmouth to raise money for the organization.