Meeting the challenge
Phoenixville's Ben Simons plays lacrosse despite having just one hand.
When Ben Simons was born at Chester County Hospital in May 1994, the doctor who delivered him told his parents he would be a soccer player - for a practical reason.
Simons was born without his left hand and forearm. His mother, Katie Simons, initially thought she might leave her job to tend to her son full-time.
"For the first few months I was home with him, I thought, 'This is ridiculous,' " she said. " 'Look at this kid. He's just smiling and growing; there's nothing else wrong with him. He can do whatever he sets his mind to.' And he's continued to prove that to us throughout his life."
Simons, 18, is now a senior at Phoenixville High School, where he does play soccer. But for two seasons he also has played a sport the doctor didn't predict for him: lacrosse.
From the beginning, Simons' parents, Katie and Eric, had trepidation about their son's condition. Apprehension persisted through the years - would other children tease him? Would he make friends? Later, would he have a girlfriend?
"Those fears were needless," Katie Simons said.
Ben and his parents insist he never viewed himself as different. He accepted his physical condition as normal. Friends came easily because he was not lacking in confidence, but his parents always looked to reassure that quality. Katie Simons believes that being an older brother - Jake Simons, 15, is a freshman at Phoenixville - has helped in that regard.
His father credits what he calls a small and diverse Phoenixville community, where the high school has an enrollment of about 1,000 students, with engendering an atmosphere of acceptance.
"His high school environment was the best scenario you could have," Eric Simons said, "where it was a strong group of kids and they all accepted him."
Over the years, Ben played several sports: T-ball, baseball, and hockey to go along with soccer, his true passion. In middle school, he picked up lacrosse and played for two years. He took a hiatus from the sport when high school began, before joining the varsity team as a junior.
"Last year, I was timid going into the games because it's so fast-paced," he said, "but now it's just a rush. I love being out there and playing."
Playing midfield, Simons has scored three career goals. He holds the stick with his right hand and cradles the shaft under his left armpit. First-year Phoenixville coach Grady Wise likes to capitalize on Simons' speed by running isolation plays for him in which Simons sweeps down the field, running in an "S" direction, before looking to feed to his attacking teammates. He registered six assists this season, which came to a close Saturday with a loss to Harriton. On Friday, his birthday, he scored his final goal for the Phantoms (4-13).
"I can't use my left hand or switch hands while I'm playing, but I think I make up for it with other things that I do - protecting the ball, my speed," said Simons, who is 5-foot-11 and 145 pounds. "Everything for me, I just learned differently. I mean, tying my shoes when I was younger was hard, but now I can do it just as fast as anyone else."
He can tie his shoes, clip his fingernails, and put in his own earrings. He doesn't use a prosthesis except to perform specialty tasks, such as strengthening exercises and driving.
In the fall, Simons will attend Elizabethtown College. He hopes to major in environmental science and walk on to the soccer team. He plans to remain involved with lacrosse, through summer leagues and club sports.
"I'm just really happy that I was able to come out and have the support from my friends," Simons said, reflecting on his senior lacrosse season. "No one ever treated me differently, and it really helped me be normal, to play the game like everyone else."
Game of the week
The Haverford School (17-1), ranked No. 4 in the nation by ESPNHS, will host Inter-Ac rival Episcopal Academy (14-3, ranked No. 25) in the final league game of the year on Tuesday at 3:45 p.m.