"What makes you different from everyone else?" was the question
put before the junior communications class at Dondero High in
Royal Oak, Mich., one morning in October. Students had to cite
their distinguishing characteristics, ranging from hair color to
family heritage. The only one to take the Fifth was Joe Scheid,
a starting wide receiver on the varsity football team.
"What about you?" a class member loudly asked Joe.
"What about me?" he replied quietly.
"You have only one arm," the student said.
December 29, 1997
Joe looked up and said, "So?"
The oddness of being a wide receiver with only one full arm
seems to escape Joe. Nor does he understand why others think him
so courageous for even attempting to play football. "I don't see
why it's a big deal," the 16-year-old athlete says, baffled that
residents of suburban Detroit find his story compelling.
"Parents with no connection to Dondero High bring their kids to
our games just so they can watch Joe," says coach Mike McElroy,
whose 1997 team finished 3-6.
Joe's mother understands his nonchalance about his athletic
achievement. "Joe wasn't handicapped by the accident," says Mary
Lou Scheid. "Just inconvenienced."
"The accident" occurred 10 years ago. Joe was snow-sledding on a
small hill at a relative's farm. He lost control and slid into
the rotating blades of a snowblower. Thirty-five hours of
surgery repaired injuries to his neck, shoulder blade and right
arm, but his left arm, severed just above the elbow, couldn't be
saved. "I used to be kind of quiet, but after the accident I
became a more aggressive person," says Joe. "I didn't want
anything to get in my way."
Four months after leaving the intensive-care unit, Joe joined
the local youth soccer league and put his new attitude on
display. While Joe was throwing an inbounds pass in one game, a
defender inquired about the arm. "My dad chopped it off with a
chain saw," Joe said.
"There's no such thing as can't in our household," says Joe's
father, Don, a shipping manager for an automobile tool
manufacturing company. "Joe might have to do something
differently from someone else, but he'll find a way to do it."
His desire to play varsity football was inevitable. After all,
the Scheid family is to Royal Oak football what changing leaves
are every autumn to the trees that surround Dondero High Field.
Mary Lou and her daughter Erica, 14, clean the team jerseys. Don
assists the team trainers on the sidelines during games. Joe's
older brother, Jeff, 19, a sophomore at Oakland (Mich.)
Community College, earned Dondero honors as a wingback in 1995,
and little brother, Andy, 11, is a water boy.
Joe, who is Dondero's smallest player, at 5'6" and 130 pounds,
quickly earned his teammates' approval. "In our first scrimmage
I threw him a nine-yard curl, and after catching it, he broke a
tackle and went 25 yards for a touchdown," says senior
quarterback Nate Dixon, who connected with Joe twice this season
for 20 yards. "After that we knew he could do it. He didn't
catch more passes this year only because of his size. He'd be
open a lot, but I couldn't find him behind all the bigger
The coaches were so won over by Joe's feistiness as a blocker
that whenever he was flagged for holding, they would holler,
"Hey, ref, which hand was it?" They also loved his unassuming
manner. After misplaying a ball either as a receiver or in his
other role, as a backup cornerback, Joe would approach McElroy
and say earnestly, "Sorry, I could only get one hand on it."
About the only person unimpressed by Joe is Joe himself. "People
always tell me that I'm an inspiration," he says. "I just think
of myself as someone chasing his dreams to play football. That's