Go to Disney World or not. Noah Kennedy had a decision to make. Take a week off to vacation with his family at the happiest place on earth, or stay back and keep the commitments he’d made at home.
It was an easy call. At week’s end, Noah was where he spends every Friday night – on the sidelines.
Noah is a junior at Colerain High School where he serves as a student manager for the Cardinals football team, a powerhouse program in the state’s biggest division. He lives not far from school in a northwestern suburb of Cincinnati with his mom, stepdad and three younger siblings. On week five of the Ohio high school football season, while his family was in Florida, he stayed at his home with his grandparents, in town from just south of Akron, so that he could do his job supporting his team.
Football is more than just a job for Noah, it’s his passion. From the time the high school season starts in July to when it ends in November or December, he’s with the Cardinals at every team practice, meeting or game doing whatever he has to do to look out for the best interest of his coaches and teammates. He’s there for the team and the team is there for him. Noah would give anything to be able to put the pads on and take the field with them, but his medical conditions won’t allow it.
Since the day he was born Noah has been in and out of children’s hospitals with a myriad of health issues, from Hirschsprung disease and eosinophilic disorders to severe asthma and now Crohn’s disease. At age 17, he’s outlived every life expectancy the doctors have ever predicted (first his family was told age 3, then it was 6, then 12, and most recently 16). He now sees a host of doctors at Cincinnati Children’s where he is scheduled for regular clinic appointments every six weeks to six months and Remicade infusions every four weeks.
While his medical conditions may have stunted his growth – he stands just 4 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs all of 75 pounds – they’ve never slowed him down. What Noah lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his tremendous attitude, work ethic, and determination – all things he says he inherited from his grandfather, Edward Kennedy. Grandpa is also who Noah got his middle name from. Edward worked third shift at a bakery for most of his life before retiring and finding another full-time job. He never took vacations either, Noah says.
If you count managing his own health as a full-time job, you could say Noah has five jobs. On top of his responsibilities as a student, a team manager, and a big brother, Noah also picked up a part-time job as a cashier at Arby’s in June. He works there every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night from 5:30 to 9:30 – after practice, of course – so that he can have a little spending money at the end of the week.
Noah’s schedule is hectic, and all of his weekdays begin the same. When he wakes up around 6:20 am, he unhooks from his G-tube feeding pump and heads downstairs to shower, eat breakfast and take a bevy of medications – potassium, iron, levothyroxine, Protonix, Zyrtec and Singulair. The pump works overnight to supplement his meals and ensure he has all 5,000 calories that his body needs every day.
School starts at 7:40 am and lets out at 2:40 pm. Noah carries an inhaler with him throughout all seven periods of the school day and always has snacks close by. He eats a small lunch at 10:25, avoiding big meals and acidic foods – because they don’t agree with his sensitive system – but every now and then he’ll treat himself to a soda. On a Friday night, he’ll eat dinner in the coaches’ office around 4 pm before getting his team and himself ready for the game.
This game is one Noah was not about to miss. Tonight is the U.S. Military Great American Rivalry Series contest against league rival Middletown. It’s also Elementary and Little Cards Night – a chance to set a good example for the younger students in the Northwest Local School District. This night three years ago is when Noah decided to be a football team manager after he attended a game as a Colerain freshman.
Noah hits the turf at 5:45 pm with his teammates in “Group 1” for warm ups, motivating his peers with high-fives and pep talks, and keeping his coaches loose before the big game. Noah’s infectious positivity and big personality shines in his interactions on the field. These are the intangibles that his coaches say make him an invaluable part of the team.
Just before opening kick at 7 pm, he leads his team out of the locker room and onto the field carrying the school flag. When the game begins, Noah works the Cardinals sideline as he does every Friday night, making sure that coaches’ headsets work, water bottles are filled, and team spirit is high. On this night, with his grandparents watching from the stands, the Cardinals roll to a 42-13 victory.
After this year, Noah will have one more season with the Cardinals. He’d prefer to spend senior year carrying his own helmet and wearing his own jersey, but it’s ok if he keeps his current job instead – he just enjoys being part of a team. Noah wants to go to college and study sports management, just like his stepdad and biggest supporter, Jonathan. Like his mentor, Colerain football head coach Tom Bolden, he plans to have a family some day and coach football. Or maybe become the GM of the Cincinnati Bengals, he says.
Even with all of his responsibilities to family, team, school, employer and self, Noah still finds a little time during football season to put his feet up, so to speak. Weekends are mostly spent watching his favorite college and pro teams on TV. He fits in doing homework whenever he can and loves being part of his Young Life group at Forest Dale Church of Christ. And when you ask Noah what he does for fun, there’s only one thing that comes to his mind: football.
Editor’s Note: Noah Kennedy’s story was featured in an episode of Game Changers on the Time Warner Cable Sports Channel last football season. His segment won a 2015 Lower Great Lakes Emmy in June.