University of Saint Francis football players came to coach Kevin Donley a couple months ago and told him they wanted to do something for a high school player they didn't even know.
Noah Barbknecht, a freshman at Northrop, was injured in a December skiing accident and was paralyzed from the breastbone down. The Saint Francis players wanted to do something to help his family with financial expenses, and to show Barbknecht and his family how much people care.
The result is a “Night for Noah” event at Saint Francis' spring football game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium. Tickets are $10.
“It didn't take me much time to say yes to pursue this,” Donley said. “Northrop is bringing their band out. They've taken about 1,500 tickets to sell. Bishop Dwenger jumped in and wanted to help. Businesses and people in the community are buying and selling tickets.
“We may not have a great crowd depending on the weather, but hopefully we've raised some money.”
A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Barbknecht family.
Noah Barbknecht, who uses a wheelchair and has returned to school at Northrop as he continues to pursue physical therapy, said he doesn't personally know any of the Saint Francis players.
“It was great and I feel like their whole team is trying to help out,” Barbknecht said.
Donley took his players' request to Northrop coach Tim Martone and the event took shape almost immediately.
“They were excited about it and we made it kind of a co-promotional type thing,” Donley said. “We could help them raise money for this young man who probably would have been a recruit one day, and maybe we can get him here in another capacity.”
Barbknecht's positive attitude, which he has demonstrated in media coverage of his recovery and return to Fort Wayne, make him an easy young man to want to help.
Great example: I asked him what he enjoyed most about returning to school after so much time recovering in an Atlanta medical facility and his home. He thought of others.
“Seeing my friends and being able to work with them and help them out if it they need anything,” Barbknecht said.
Some might be surprised he has returned to school so soon, but he has resumed his studies and picked up where he left off.
“It was not really hard to adjust,” he said. “I don't know that it has been faster than what I expected, but some people might think that. I actually have the same classes, but I finished my geometry and biology for the rest of the year.”
Barbknecht continues to have outpatient therapy through Lutheran Hospital at least four times a week.
“I'm doing all right, but I had a hard time maneuvering around the house,” he said. “We had to change a lot of things. I'm doing a lot better going around the house now. I actually went upstairs a couple times already.”
Martone said he hopes Barbknecht can help the football team in some capacity next fall. Barbknecht will be listed on the roster with his number (55) and the players will also have that number on their helmets, Martone said.
“I talked to Noah the other day and he said he wants to help the team out any way he can,” Martone said. “I told him, 'We want you there as much as you can come to practice.' ”
Barbknecht said he was pleased to hear he'll be able to have the No.55 jersey.
“I was really hoping I could get it,” he said. “I want to help out with the team and the coaches.”
Martone said the way Barbknecht has dealt with his accident has been inspirational to others.
“He really has a good attitude and his parents (Jason and Sandi) are a big part of it,” Martone said.
That attitude caught the attention of a group of college football players, and “Night for Noah” will show that it's possible for sports to reach beyond the playing field.
“We have an exceptional group of kids here and they really wanted to help out,” Donley said. “I think it'll be a great thing.”