EAGLES AUTISM CHALLENGE
A SIMPLE GESTURE, A LASTING MEMORY
EIGHT-YEAR-OLD MICHAEL O’SHEA LIVED OUT HIS DREAM THANKS TO A SURPRISE DONATION
BY CHRIS McPHERSON
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES GAMEDAY MAGAZINE 37
On September 22, the eve of the win
over the Indianapolis Colts, the O’Shea
family was touring the NovaCare Complex.
Eagles Autism Challenge executive
director Ryan Hammond was sent a photo
of 8-year-old Michael O’Shea holding up
a sign at school that read that he wanted
to be a football player when he grows up.
Moved by the image, Hammond invited
Michael, who is non-verbal and on the
autism spectrum, and his family to the
team’s training facility.
The O’Sheas saw the Lombardi Trophy
and Super Bowl ring that rests in the case
in the NovaCare Complex lobby. They
walked the hallways adorned with pictures
of the franchise’s Pro Bowl players. The
family marveled at the entryway to the
practice field which has life-size images
and graphics honoring the best moments
of the last two decades.
Michael’s father, Jared, figured they
might see someone from the coaching
staff in the building. But they were not
prepared for what happened next.
As Michael played on the practice fields
outside with two of his sisters, Molly and
Madelyn, the entire team came out and
headed for the stone bleachers that come
out from behind the building. It was team
picture day. And Michael was going to be
front and center in the photo.
Michael was going to be a football player.
Head coach Doug Pederson chatted with
the family before Hammond revealed
the surprise. Michael’s mother, Michelle,
grabbed her son and began to tear up
upon hearing the news. Jared, holding
Madelyn, was in disbelief.
Meanwhile, the team assembled for the
photo. Hammond introduced the players,
coaches, and front office staff to Michael,
who was in a kelly green Carson Wentz
jersey. Everyone cheered for him. Michael
sat between Coach Pederson and
team president Don Smolenski in the
“That’s something that we’ll have
forever. For him, he can’t really tell us
what this means to him, but we know and
we know what it will mean in the future
for him,” Michelle says. “He loves football.
He loves the Eagles. We’re huge fans, so
we’re just so thankful to be a part of it.”
About 100 miles up the road in New
York City, Bryce Moses was aware of the
magical moment that was unfolding in
Moses donated money to the Eagles
Autism Challenge in his nephew Mason’s
name as a bah mitzvah gift and won the
opportunity to sit in the team photo.
When the date was announced, however,
Mason was unable to attend.
Unsure of what to do, Moses spoke
with Mason and his sister, Skyler, and the
children came up with the idea of donating
it to another fan. Moses reached out to
Hammond, who had just seen Michael’s
photo that morning.” I figured this would
be a great life lesson for him to contribute
in his name to a great cause through the
Eagles organization,” says Moses, a Villanova
native. “It couldn’t have been a better
match for our extended Eagles family.”
An attorney in New York City, Moses
spent many years fighting on behalf of
families with special education needs.
He was very sensitive to the obstacles
children with autism face. He understood
the difficult hurdles that the parents
and guardians have to overcome. That’s
why he wanted to donate to the Eagles
“The only thing I did wrong was watch
that video before I walked into court,”
Moses said after seeing the O’Shea family’s
reaction. “It’s hard not to get emotional
watching that, and the family just looks
like a great family. I’m just so happy to
Michael is a second-grade student at
Wallingford Elementary School. He said
his first word, “dada,” just before he was
2 years old. He initially spoke a number
of words, but regressed and wasn’t
diagnosed with autism until he was 3. In
addition to saying mommy, daddy, and his
sisters’ names, Michael will also cheer,
“He’s a hard worker. It’s funny that
it’s the Autism Challenge because it is a
challenge, and every day is a challenge
with him, but he works harder than
anybody I know,” Jared says.
In addition to going to school full time,
Michael does 12 hours of therapy each
week. He plays in a basketball league
on Saturdays and tennis on Sundays.
Jared is looking into getting Michael in a
There have been many victories for the
O’Shea family, but there are still battles
they fight on Michael’s behalf. His therapy,
as beneficial as it may be, is not covered
by insurance. That’s why they formed
Team Michael Man for the Eagles Autism
Challenge on May 18, 2019.
“Just to continue raising awareness,
educating others, giving others the
opportunity to learn more,” Michelle
says. “It’s not a disease, you’re not going
to catch it. That’s what we went into his
class to teach his class about. Every time
you talk to him, you can say hi to him. He
might not always say hi back to you, but it
doesn’t matter. He’s still a second-grader.
He’s still your little boy that wants to have
friends. He’s always listening.”
And he certainly heard those cheers
from the players he gets excited to see