Taylan Orton (34) leads the Findlay Trojans onto the field Friday night at Donnell Stadium. (KENT TARBOX/for The Courier)

A group of athletes from Findlay High School reminded the city this week that the game of football is about more than the final score.

And an 8-year-old boy showed that heartbreak can, in fact, give way to childlike wonder.

A dark experience that led the football-loving Taylan Orton to declare “I hate football” in mid-August was replaced with the exuberance of joining the FHS varsity football team on the sidelines during tonight’s first game of the season at Donnell Stadium.

Taylan will spend many Friday nights there this fall, as the team has invited him to join them during every home game of the season.

“He’s very excited. It’s all he’s been talking about,” mom Carrie Orton said.

That excitement is a complete 180-degree reversal from the sadness her son felt after being bullied during his first foray into Findlay Youth Football.

Carrie says Taylan, who has cerebral palsy, has loved the sport all his life and previously played on a YMCA flag football league.

Early this season, she says her son was intentionally knocked down at a Findlay Youth Football practice — not during a tackling drill — by another child who told Taylan that “he was a loser and was going to make them lose.”

The interaction was enough to prompt Taylan to run off the field and throw his helmet to the ground.

“And he’s not that kid,” Carrie says. “He loves football.”

Carrie says her son’s medical condition does not require him to be in a wheelchair, but it does affect his gross motor skills. She had made a note of his condition on his youth football registration forms and talked to a coach directly on the first day of practice.

After calling the organization’s president to complain about the bullying incident, Carrie posted a heartfelt Facebook account of the ordeal. The post reads, in part, that Taylan cried himself to sleep that night, “asking why he wasn’t good enough.”

That post was seen by Emily Buckman, wife of Findlay High School football coach Talisma Buckman, who helped turn Taylan’s despair into the surprise of his young lifetime.

On Wednesday this week, a group of jersey-clad football players surprised Taylan in the cafeteria at St. Michael’s School, where he is a third-grader. They carried a poster board that read, “Taylan come hang out with us Friday nights.”

In what has since become a viral video, Taylan jumps up and down excitedly and shouts “Yeah!” and begins squealing with glee.

FHS Athletic Director Nate Weihrauch says the school district encourages students and athletes to be positive role models in the community, and the players involved (quarterback Tanner Rickle, Steven Gerdemann, Parker Fetterman, Mitchell Taylor and Grant Morman) “did an amazing job.”

“Taylan shares the same passion for athletics as our teams, coaches and athletes at Findlay High. We believe character is important and this was an opportunity to simply help someone,” Weihrauch says. “We are blessed to have tremendous kids throughout our community that are willing to make a positive difference.

“We look forward to Football Fridays at Donnell Stadium, where we will be accompanied by another Trojan in Taylan by our side. Go Trojans!”

As for Taylan’s reaction, Carrie says her son is over the moon.

“When I went into his bedroom to turn the light out (Wednesday) he had the poster in bed with him,” she says.