Thirty-three years later, Seahawks fan Steve Harper still remembers the December day in 1979 when Seahawks starting quarterback Jim Zorn paid a visit to Room 18 at his Maplewood school.
Zorn, who started for the Seahawks from their inaugural season in 1976 until 1983 and who would later be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor, was on hand to answer questions from the young students of Room 18. The children were able to interact with Zorn, including the then 10-year-old Harper, who was able to try on the game-worn Seahawks helmet Zorn had brought in.
But the story of how Zorn came to visit that particular classroom is the one that bears telling.
Harper, a native of Vancouver, Wash. who has lived in Lynnwood for most of his life, was born with severe cerebral palsy – a disorder caused by abnormal development of parts of the brain that control muscle tone and muscle movement.
The disorder made simple movements very difficult for Harper. He could not walk and he could not talk. But Harper did have ways of communicating with others.
“In the late 1970’s the only communicator I had was a communication board,” Harper said in a recent e-mail. “Basically, it was a table tray with the alphabet and words on it that I could point to using my pointer stick in my right hand.
“I just hated it!” Harper continued. “It was just too hard to use and it was very slow to communicate. I just refused to use it much.”
It was Harper’s communications disorders specialist, Paulette Penney, who would motivate Harper to use his communication board more. Penney knew Harper loved the Seahawks, particularly their exciting, play-making quarterback. Penney suggested Harper write a letter to Zorn, using his communication board, encouraging the Seattle quarterback to pay a visit to their classroom at Maplewood Handicapped Children’s Center.
“My speech therapist and I wrote Jim a letter using my communication board asking him to come and visit my school,” said Harper. “We mailed the letter and to everybody’s surprise, Jim accepted my invitation.”
Today, Harper’s means of communication are a little more advanced – and more effective – than they were in the late 1970’s. He is able to communicate with Morse code by tapping his head on two panels that extend outward from the back of his wheelchair toward each side of his head. His laptop in front of him is able to translate the code to read like a regular keystroke or mouse movement.
“It is tons better than the old communication board that I had,” Harper emphasized.
Since that memorable day in 1979, Harper, now 44, has remained a vehement Seahawks fan. He has been a Seahawks season ticket holder since CenturyLink Field first opened in 2002. The passion of the 12th Man is what Harper says makes Seahawks game days at CenturyLink Field feel so special.
“Every year I look forward so much to going to every home game,” Harper said. “Name me any other stadium in the NFL, indoors or outdoors, where it gets as loud as it does compared to here in Seattle?”
And as if combating cerebral palsy all his life isn’t enough, Harper has been in a battle with leukemia as well. But he says the cancer has remained the very mildest form of leukemia there is.
“My leukemia is Stage 0,” Harper said. “It’s still a pain. Every four months I have to go to the doctor and they drain a bottle of blood to make sure everything is staying relatively the same.”
Despite the hardship, Harper insists that the Seahawks have helped him cope with his health problems through the years. He does not plan to leave this world until he sees his team win the big game. And after they do, which Harper believes will happen sooner rather than later, he wants to be around to see them do it again. And again. And again.
“The Seahawks have meant everything to me over the years,” he said. “I’m determined to hang on this rock until my Seahawks win the Super Bowl!"
I am Steven Harper. I am ten years old. I go to Maplewood School in Edmonds School District.
I can't walk and I can't talk, but I can talk with my communication board. Do you know what a communication board is? It is a bunch of words.
I watched you play football on television. I am sorry you couldn't go to the Super Bowl. You better win 16 games in 1979 (ha! ha!).
My letter hopes you will come to Maplewood School to see me. I am happy you are going to be married. Please let me know if you can come.