NEWARK — As his friend walked by, Jordan Downes called out to him.
“Ryaan,” said the Caesar Rodney High football player.
“How you been, man?” Downes asked Ryan Bradford, his former CR classmate.
“Good,” Bradford answered. “How about you?”
It could have been an exchange between a couple of teenagers just about anywhere.
What was different about this one, though, is that Downes is a standout running back while Bradford is a special-needs 17-year-old student.
But, while pairing up athletes and special-needs kids is at the heart of the Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game, the fact is, Downes and Bradford already knew each other long before the events leading up to Saturday night’s contest.
Downes said he first met Bradford last school year in a gym class at CR, where Bradford is part of the inclusion program.
“I picked him up on my Ultimate Football team,” said Downes. “He was on my team and, ever since then. ... Ryan is probably the first one (special-needs student) I met through school.
“It’s pretty cool that he has someone else that he can communicate with,” Downes said during Blue-Gold Media Day on Sunday. “He doesn’t feel isolated.”
Saturday will be a special night for the two Riders when the 60th annual Blue-Gold game is played at Delaware Stadium at 7 p.m.
Downes is the lone CR football player in the game while Bradford is the Gold All-Star Buddy, one of two children chosen to represent all the others involved in the Blue-Gold’s Hand-in-Hand program.
A member of the Kent County Wild Kats Special Olympics team, Bradford has been a buddy in the Hand-in-Hand program for the last four years. He was also a co-captain in the Blue-Gold All-Star Basketball Game in March.
“The kids are really close there (at CR),” said Ryan’s mom, April. “They include everybody — they don’t exclude anybody. Ryan is the JV soccer manager so he knows the kids though that.”
Because of his role as the Gold All-Star Buddy, Bradford wasn’t officially partnered with a player this year.
“But (Downes), even though he’s not Ryan’s ‘buddy,’ he’s Ryan’s buddy,” April said with a smile.
Last season was a tough one for Downes and the rest of his CR football teammates. The Riders went just 2-8 and finished the season with a four-game losing streak.
Downes is headed for Kings College (Pa.) where he’ll continue his football career with the NCAA Division III program. But he’s love to finish out his high school career with one last victory.
“With a win, I can get it out of my system,” Downes said about the rough finish to his senior season. “It’s always tough taking a loss — especially in my last game as a Caesar Rodney Rider. It was pretty tough.
“I’ve been thinking about this game ever since they told me I got selected. That’s when it became a dream come true. I’ve just been working ever since. ... It’s pretty much an honor just being here. I just want to show that I can roll with the big dogs.”
Putting on a show
Anybody who knows Lenny Knight knows the Dover High band director loves putting on a show.
Knight is also now in his fifth year as the director of the Blue-Gold marching band.
He thinks he’s come up with some pretty good ideas for the halftime show of Saturday’s game. Knight has dubbed the show ‘Pop Hits in Blockbuster Movies.’
“This year’s halftime, we decided to go a different route,” he said on Sunday. “They’re going to bring the house down — at least I plan to. Keep your eyes open because there might be a surprise here and there throughout the show.
“It’s going to be fun. ... Do not get popcorn or hot dogs until after the halftime show because you might miss something.”
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or email@example.com.