A little blood was not about to keep Jesse McKeown on the sideline for too long.
Not in his first appearance as an Ellet varsity player.
McKeown lined up on the Orangemen defensive line Sept. 20, 2012, in a City Series game against East at InfoCision Stadium.
Teammate Hussain Hamdan remembers the game vividly when McKeown took the field despite dealing with the partial loss of his vision and hearing from Usher syndrome.
McKeown got knocked around pretty good once.
“Jesse came in and he never backed down once,” Hamdan said Monday. “I remember one play in particular where his nose started leaking blood. I asked him if he was all right and he just went and wiped his face with his sleeve and said ‘I’m ready to go.’ ”
McKeown, now a senior reserve, will be ready to go at 7:30 tonight when Ellet (10-0) hosts Perrysburg (8-2) in a Division II regional quarterfinal.
McKeown loves to compete on the football field, even with his condition.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says the major symptoms of Usher syndrome are hearing loss due to a genetic mutation and an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, or RP. RP causes night-blindness and a loss of peripheral vision through the progressive degeneration of the retina. The retina is a light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye and is crucial for vision.
About four in every 100,000 births in the United States have Usher syndrome.
“On Friday nights during our varsity games it is more of a challenge for me because it is dark and the lights are not that bright,” McKeown said. “I just have to really focus and get down. When I practice during the daytime I can see everything that is going on, but on Friday nights, it is more of a challenge because it is darker and it is so noisy. I have a hard time hearing on Friday nights.”
The Foundation for Fighting Blindness says researchers are studying causes and potential treatments for Usher syndrome and other retinal degenerative diseases. Excellent progress in research has been made recently, according to the foundation.
“I can see [players] when they are coming towards me, but I can’t see when they are at a far distance away from me,” McKeown said. “I do not have peripheral vision.
“I get frustrated a lot and sometimes I get down on myself. Sometimes I wish I could be a better football player and have more opportunities, but I just realize this is how it is going to be and this is how it is going to work.”
When asked on a scale of 0 to 100 percent where is hearing and seeing is, McKeown said: “My hearing is at about 63 percent and my seeing is at about 52 percent.”
McKeown, a 5-foot-7, 185-pound nose guard, wears hearing aids and uses a reading machine that has a magnifying glass to make small words and numbers appear larger. He played in two varsity games last year (East and North), and has played in four varsity games this year (Springfield, East, Firestone and North).
“Jesse has a great attitude,” Ellet coach Joe Yost said. “He is a real pleasant kid who is not afraid to get out there and mix it up. He is there to play like everybody else.”
McKeown runs around the field and makes tackles, but he also serves as an inspiration to his teammates. Hamdan and fellow senior captains Matt Geer, Jake Fisher and Dakota King rave about him.
“It is a privilege to get to play with him,” Fisher said. “He is always trying to keep everybody up. He is always running around telling everybody good job and making us smile. He is fun to play with. We have known him since sixth grade and he has played with us since eighth grade.”
McKeown has three older siblings: Kenny Fry (30), Gina Fry (27) and Katie McKeown (24). Kenny played football at Archbishop Hoban and the College of Wooster.
“My parents [Catherine Chrobak and Gary McKeown] didn’t know until later on when I was growing,” McKeown said of his condition. “My friends and teammates have always helped me around.
“It is a great honor to be a part of this team because this team has taught me a lot about life. I learn a lot from these guys. It is great to see the hard work that we put in together in practice and in games. This is just a great opportunity for me.”
McKeown, an Eagle Scout with Troop 177, has a 3.3 grade-point average. He is optimistic he will continue to hear and see on a limited basis moving forward.
“I go to the Cleveland Clinic each year for a checkup and sometimes I lose five percent each year,” McKeown said.
McKeown plans to attend Stark State and study to be a physical therapist assistant.
“The biggest thing Jesse brings to our team is the fact that anything is possible,” Yost said. “I think that is important for us to see. I also think that in today’s society where there is so much of everything, it also allows us to be thankful for the blessings that we take for granted every day. This has made our team much less selfish and much more aware of the things that we can do to help other people.
“I know that in the summer when we have our lunches and there are a lot of other things organizationally, automatically the players, especially the guys that are Jesse’s age, jump in right away to help him out in anyway that they can. That has been that way through Jesse’s entire career here at Ellet.
“Also, we learn that everyone has a role, everyone has a part and everyone is an important team member. There are lots of ways to make contributions on a high school football team. Jesse has taken pride in being a scout player, realizing he is not going to get in some of the games at times because that is just the way it is. There is a reality here that we are playing competitive high school football. Winning does matter and winning does count. Jesse has understood his role and he is taking pride in that.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.