Clay Kirby knew his son, Blake, wanted to take the field at least once in his final year as a member of Greenwood’s football program.
“I promised him that we’d get him on the football field his senior year,” Clay said, “whatever we could do.”
Sure enough Blake Kirby got his chance Friday against Logan County.
Blake, a team manager who is unable to play due to a degenerative medical condition, was cleared by doctors to be on the field for one snap in one game with no contact.
That moment came Friday after the Gators’ first touchdown.
Greenwood lined up in what coach Chris Seabolt called the “Kirby personnel,” with Blake Kirby at running back behind quarterback Jackson Adams.
Adams took the snap and handed to Kirby, who made his way up the middle and into the end zone for a 2-point conversion. His score made the Gators’ lead 8-0 in what turned out to be a 43-7 GHS win.
“Our sideline just erupted when he scored,” Seabolt said. “Those kids were just tickled to death with the opportunity he was given.”
Kirby grew up playing football, mostly on defense as a linebacker. His father called him one of the area’s best youth players.
But Kirby also had to deal with the effects of cerebellar atrophy ataxia, a condition caused by loss of nerve cells in parts of the brain associated with muscle coordination.
As Kirby got older, the condition grew worse and the loss of balance and coordination affected his ability to play football. A concussion he sustained in practice his freshman season at Greenwood led to his giving up the sport.
“At that time we realized with his health condition that he would not be able to play any longer,” said Missy Hilton, Kirby’s mother. “He just couldn’t think fast enough and could get hurt even worse if he played any more. At that time he decided he wanted to still be a part of the team so he became manager.”
The managerial role has allowed Kirby to stay around the program, whether that means helping with equipment or simply taking in practice.
Kirby grew up playing football with the players who make up Greenwood’s roster and he said he loves “just to be part of the team.”
But Kirby wanted to actually play the sport, and his parents said they wanted to find a way to make that a reality.
So after a doctor gave Kirby an OK to participate in a single, noncontact snap, Kirby’s family talked to Seabolt.
Seabolt then got in touch with Logan County coach Steve Duncan and presented a proposal: Allow Kirby to score a 2-point conversion after the Gators’ first touchdown and in return Seabolt would pull his defense off the field and allow the Cougars an unopposed 2-point play after their first TD.
“I felt a little awkward,” Seabolt said. “You never know how it’s going to be received because you’re asking another coach to ask his team or put his team in a position to give up points.
“But I emailed him over the weekend, talked about it with him, explained what was going on, why and he was on board from the outset of me asking.”
Kirby went to practice every day last week and ran through the play. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do when he stepped out onto the field Friday.
Sure enough, he took the handoff and went up the middle and into the end zone for two points.
As the crowd went wild, Kirby’s teammates said “they were really proud of me and were just happy for me.”
Even the coaching staff got caught up in the emotion of the moment, Seabolt said.
“When it actually happened, I couldn’t help but cry a little bit,” he said. “I apologized to my coaches I was on the headset with and they were all up (above the press box) sniffling like, ‘It’s all right, coach. We’re all up here crying too.’ “
Students unfurled a large banner supporting Kirby, while other community members and family friends cheered him on.
Hilton said the support for her son was “very heartwarming.”
“All of our family was there and friends and people from the community who knew he was going to be out there,” she said. “They would come up to me with tears in their eyes so thankful that Blake was able to live out his dream.”