Last week, Lake Norman High's lacrosse team beat Mooresville 16-7 to clinch a conference championship. But with four minutes left in the game, which had been long decided, something happened that left a lot of fans wiping their eyes.
Senior Vaughn Porter scored his first career goal. His Lake Norman teammates rushed toward him, the players on the bench and the kids on the field. It looked like a state championship celebration. Everyone wanted to be part of this moment.
Porter has a rare disorder. It's called 22q.11 Deletion Syndrome. Believed to be as common as Down syndrome, 22q.11 affects an estimated one in 4,000 people, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is caused by the deletion of a small piece of chromosome 22 and commonly can cause heart abnormalities, a cleft palate and distinctive facial features. It can also cause recurrent infections, rheumatoid arthritis and even Graves' disease, due to immune system dysfunction.
Porter, though, has overcome his challenges and become a valued member of the Lake Norman team.
His younger brother, Quinn, a sophomore, played for the Wildcats' lacrosse team last season. Vaughn wanted to play, too. Since he knew Lake Norman coach James Brugger through his brother, Vaughn asked if he could join the team.
That was in March 2017, and the season was well underway. Vaughn had never played lacrosse before, but Brugger basically made him a manager.
Vaughn wasn't on the team. But this was the next best thing. He got to be around the team, go to practice and attend all the games. He got to watch Lake Norman make it all the way to the N.C. 4A state championship game.
“Vaughn called us when we were in Mexico and told us that he asked Coach Brugger if he could play lacrosse, and we told him that’s not really how it works,” Vaughn's mother, Jenni Porter, said. “But it did work. Coach Brugger and the team accepted Vaughn like any other player. He helped out the team, then started playing in the summer, fall and Polar Bear leagues.”
Vaughn worked with an assistant coach at Lake Norman and put a lot of time in his game, also working with the Wildcats players and his brother.
He was determined to be a player this season.
And then he made the team.
“This entire season has been such a positive and uplifting experience for Vaughn, and his brother, Quinn, has been instrumental in helping him,” Jenni Porter said. “But the outpouring of love from the Lake Norman coaches, players and their parents has been astounding. The team motto is 'Family first,' and they actually really practice that and believe that.”
Porter said that was never more evident than in last week's game.
Vaughn's goal last week came as Lake Norman (15-2, 6-0) clinched the conference 11 championship and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Lake Norman has been state runner-up three of the past five years, and the Wildcats believe this could be their year to break through.
But no one was thinking about any of that last week. It was all about Vaughn.
And after he scored, and after his teammates rushed the field in celebration, Mooresville's goalkeeper, Robert Mendez -- who plays for the rival team -- presented Porter with the game ball.
Lake Norman coach Brugger said it was a special moment.
“When Vaughn (Porter) scored, there was not a dry eye in the place, as the team rushed the field,” Brugger said. "’We don’t rush the field for goals, but I told the kids that if Vaughn scored a goal, I wouldn’t mind if they rushed the field. When Vaughn scored, we all just took off running, jumped on him, hugged him and celebrated. It was a moment none of us will ever forget.
"To see Vaughn smiling ear to ear for the rest of the night and even the next day made it even better.”
Fighting tears, Jenni Porter captured the moment on her cellphone.
“So many special things had already happened with Vaughn starting his first game and being the team captain that night,” she said. "When he scored, I was on the sideline crying. My husband, Tom, was in the stands crying. It was a special moment. We are all still in awe of the sportsmanship of both teams and thankful to have been a part of it all."
Next fall, Vaughn will attend Mitchell Community College in Iredell County. He'll take some awesome memories with him, but really he has his sights set on a few more.
“This whole season has been very exciting,” Vaughn Porter said. “But this time, I hope we get to finish as state champions.”