Many players selected for the DRFC Blue-Gold All-Star football game will say that it’s a special experience. Unlike anything they’ve done before. Life-changing, even.
And all of that is true.
Ever since the Delaware Foundation Reaching Citizens added the “Hand-in-Hand” program in 1974, Blue-Gold players have been paired up with a “buddy” from the community who is dealing with an intellectual disability, spending the week before the game held at the University of Delaware hanging out, playing games and forming life-changing friendships.
After being selecting for Blue-Gold this past spring, recent Indian River High School graduate Joey Anderson was paired up with Layne Twigg from Roxana, a 10-year-old with a rare chromosome disorder.
But their life-changing friendship began long before the week’s events. Almost as soon as he opened the letter from the DRFC, Anderson and Twigg had met for breakfast at the Frankford Diner, and they took to each other right away.
Soon after, Twigg was visiting Anderson at baseball practice, getting to know the team and going to games. Their families became friends and, then, practically family, too.
It was Anderson’s impact on Twigg that inspired his mother, Dani Twigg, to write a heartfelt letter to the DRFC, recommending that Anderson be considered for the Barb & Winnie Spence Hand-in-Hand Award.
“All of Lane’s participants in the past have been great, but Joey and Lane were just inseparable — they shared a very special bond,” explained Dani Twigg of why she wrote the letter. “Joey showed an enormous amount love for just the way Lane was.
“It’s been astonishing — it’s been a miracle. They really bonded as brothers.”
However, in talking to past Blue-Gold selections, such as Spencer Sturla (2015) and current IR head coach and former player Phil Townsend, Anderson knew going in that experience was a unique one for all the game’s participants, and at the awards banquet on Friday, he wasn’t expecting to hear his name called.
After being given the Lions Club award early on in the ceremony, he sat at the banquet with his family, and, eventually, after all the other awards had been announced, presenters got to the Hand-in-Hand Award and starting reading a letter.
“They were reading the note, and it was describing a single mom with two sons, and I was, like, “Oh, wow — that rings a bell a little bit; that sounds really familiar to me,’” Anderson described.
But even after getting some suspecting glances from friends and family who were also thinking that the letter’s description sounded familiar, Anderson continued to shake his head “No,” in disbelief, all the way up to when his name was called.
“Everyone deserves it, honestly,” Anderson said of the other participants and their buddies. “I went to all the Hand-in-Hand stuff and saw everyone with their buddy — it’s a great honor to have that award. It was very heart-touching moment.”
Anderson immediately called Twigg to thank her and share the moment, even though he knew he would see her and Layne the next day for the game.
“When Joey called me, I was at a loss for words,” Twigg said. “I was in complete shock, because they had never notified me to tell me that he was going to win. Everybody was just so proud of the relationship that Joey and Layne have.
“And it’s not just a relationship between Joey and Lane — our families have bonded, too. I’ve bonded with Joey’s parents and his grandparents, and my parents have bonded with the family — it’s incredible how everybody has come together.”
“Joe earned the award,” said Townsend, noting Anderson’s character. “He goes above and beyond. That’s one of the reasons I nominated him for Blue-Gold — I knew he had what it took to be the best representative for Indian River. He’s a great kid. He’s always trying to help somebody else but exceeded my expectations.”
The next day, the Andersons and the Twiggs got together to cheer on the Gold team and No. 62 in the 61st annual Blue-Gold All-Star.
While Blue would end up winning 31-20, it didn’t matter to them or to Anderson, who said he knew that the experience was about more than the scoreboard and that he had made a friend for life.
“It really hit me how special that moment was and to try to take it all in — it wasn’t about the game itself; it was about that moment,” he described. “If I could go back and do it again, I would every year.
“It’s weird how you can impact somebody’s life in just six months. I just want to keep that going. Layne has made me a better person.”
Blue-Gold week may be over, but the newfound bond between the families is unquestionably just beginning. In fact, they’re already planning a Fourth of July beach get-together.
No matter what the future holds, Twigg said that one thing was for sure.
“I would just like to personally recognize Joey,” she said. “I don’t know what his future holds. I don’t know what he wants to do for school and all of that, but from what I know of him, Joey is going to go on to do great things. There is no question about that.”