Dalton Dyer a hit on, off the field

Heroic Hillman
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Dalton Dyer expected to get high-fives from his Placer High teammates and coaches on the football field last fall. It turns out he’s a bigger hero to thousands of foster youth and social workers all over California. The 17-year-old Placer High senior was thrust into a spotlight he never imagined last fall when his court case transformed the Hillmen’s football season and changed laws regarding foster youths’ access to extracurricular programs in California. Dyer is flourishing in his new role as an advocate for foster youth all over the state. He was a guest speaker and served on panels at several conferences for foster youth and social workers this summer with the National Center for Youth Law, the Oakland-based organization that handled his case. “Among that group Dalton is like a rock star,” NCYL senior attorney Leecia Welch said. “I’ve been to two different conferences that Dalton’s been a presenter at and I can’t tell you how many people have stood up and told him what an inspiration he’s been for them. Everyone wants to meet him and shake his hand. He’s really made an impact.” Dyer expected to make noise on the football field last year after he transferred from Bethel High in Vallejo to Placer. After living in foster care throughout junior high and high school, Dyer moved to Auburn to live with his aunt Murlene Spinks. As a speedy kick returner, Dyer immediately turned heads at Placer, thrilling the home crowd with a couple of big returns in the season opener against Rosemont. He continued to play well in a limited role until disaster struck in mid-October. The Sac-Joaquin Section office ruled that improper paperwork had been filed for Dyer’s transfer, making him ineligible for the first five games of the season. The resulting three forfeits left the Hillmen with a losing record and an uphill climb to the playoffs. Dyer said there were some dark days last fall, but with the support of his family, his teammates, coaches and peers he was able to keep his head up. “I’m just happy it wasn’t a different foster kid going through it,” Dyer said. “Everyone deals with situations differently. I think another kid might have dome something stupid like hurt themselves or hurt others. I'm just glad foster kids can transfer to a new school and play football now and not go through what I had to go through.” Attorney Art Woodward, whose son Sam was an offensive lineman on the Placer team, led an effort to appeal the section’s ruling. It failed, which led him to contact NCYL. An Oakland judge agreed to hear Dyer’s case on the day the playoffs were set to begin, without Placer. The rest is history as the judge improbably overruled the California Interscholastic Federation at the hearing three days later. Placer went on to win two playoff games and make its first section title game appearance since 1981. “Ordinarily a case like this would take at least a year,” Welch said. “We had no time to lose. But we had really strong facts on our side. It took a lot of really hard work from a lot of people and bravery on Dalton’s part to step forward. He had the presence of mind to step forward and say, ‘I’m going to stand up for what is right.’” The CIF adopted a new rule this summer, allowing foster children easier access to high school sports upon transferring between schools. Dyer’s story also led to a new law in California granting immediate residential status to all foster children that make a residence change. Dyer is thankful his case led to positive changes for fellow foster children and more exposure to the issues they face. But it’s football season again and he’s eager to get out on the field, where he expresses himself best. “He looks really good,” fellow senior tailback Asher Gotzmer said of Dyer. “He’s made a lot of steps forward this year.” The Hillmen now have a loyal following at a small office in Oakland. Placer’s team photo hangs on the wall in the NCYL’s conference room and she plans to catch as many games as she can this season, including tonight’s opener “We’re a bunch of Hillmen fans now,” Welch said. “It’s the sort of case that captured the imagination of people in the community. And the fact is, a lot of that is because of Dalton and who he is and how he carried himself.” Dyer plans on attending college next year. He recently visited Sacramento State and he'ss interested in getting into coaching. “I’d like to get into coaching when I hang up the cleats,” Dyer said. “I’ve had many different coaches and I’ve learned a lot from all of them.” A hip injury may keep him out of action in tonight’s opener at Rosemont, but the guy who earned the nickname, “D-Train” will be back on the field shortly. “I worked a lot to get bigger and stronger in the offseason,” said Dyer, who is 5-7, 185 pounds. “I want to go out with a bang.”