RAVENNA, Ohio (WJW) – Southeast Middle School 6th grader Paxton Hemberger, welcomed this year onto the roster of his youth football varsity team, has become an inspiration.
Paxton has cerebral palsy and dystonia, which makes walking and moving his muscles difficult. But, he loves football and last year served as the team’s pirate mascot.
This year, Mike Richeson said he wanted to make Paxton a full member of the team. He reached out to others in their youth football league and was given resounding approval.
“We made sure he had the new jersey, the pants, the helmet, everything,” said Richeson.
Richeson, the S.E. League president, said the impact was profound.
“What he goes through on a daily basis just to get up and go to school, just to come to practice. It’s amazing the drive that he has and that gives us drive,” said Richeson
“They are like, ‘hey, get Paxton in here,’ whenever they do the huddle. ‘Hey, get Paxton in here,’ and it’s always on the top of their minds and it’s fantastic,” said Paxton’s father, Todd Hemberger.
In a recent game, the team and their opponent gave Paxton the chance to score a touchdown. He was wheeled through the players by his mother as they and the crowd rose to their feet rallying around him.
“His teammates, all the football players, they were all diving in and giving him fist bumps and it just makes us feel good knowing that he’s so loved in our community and not left out,” said Paxton’s mother, Christina Hemberger.
On Tuesday, as the league’s 80 players and 80 cheerleaders between kindergarten and 6th grade gathered to celebrate their latest season, Paxton was given a very special award.
The innagural Bob Miller courage award was named after a man who himself was an inspiration in the community but who recently lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.
“There’s no other individual that I could even come close to imagine who is more deserving than Paxton. He battles and he fights every single day.” said Bob Miller’s son Chris, who was there for the award presentation
“He’s doing a lot of things that a lot of us would have difficulty doing and I think that’s what courage means to me and that’s what this award represents,” said Superintendent Bob Dunn.
Also on hand for the presentation was Cleveland Browns legendary quarterback Bernie Kosar.
“Some of the issues that Paxton and his family have to deal with, he has real courage and the courage that he shows, I’m humbled,” said Kosar.
“For them to even think about us in that way has been speechless, honestly. I was trying to think of the words and it’s just a lot of times our emotions just get the best of us,” said Christina.
The award is expected to be placed in a permanent place at the high school stadium.
High school athletic director and head football coach Patrick Youel says he cannot wait until the young students who are on Paxton’s team in his program.
“That’s what this game is all about is the life lessons that the kids are being taught and to teach it at that age. For them to be that selfless, to understand those values what they did is just incredible.”
Chris Miller says presenting Paxton the inaugural award was a unanimous decision and he hopes it will help inspire others with disabilities.
“People out there with a kid like Paxton in different schools, you know, they can be a part of something. That’s what this is about, not to sit on the sidelines. Paxton is a part of that team.”