NC man helps blind man see high school football games

“We lost 5 yards, Tom,” says Hayden Shackelford.

Shackelford and his friend, Tom Husketh, stand inside the fence at South Granville High School football games, just a few ways from the sidelines where the players sit. The South Granville football team, nicknamed the Vikings, plays the Southern Nash High School Firebirds. The teams are red and blue under the floodlights.

“Should we kick him again?” Hesketh asks.

“Yes, we do,” Shackelford says.

The Vikings marching band begins to drum on it. The noise turns to crescendo as the fans call out to the team. The tension is palpable.

“Here we go, here we go,” says Shackelford.

The referee blows the whistle. The drum reaches its climax, and is abruptly cut off.

“And there’s the kick,” he says.

For fans who regularly attend South Granville football matches, Husketh and Shackelford are a familiar sight. However, if one approaches them, one will realize two things: that Hosketh is blind, and that Shackelford tells him game after game.

In the 1950s, doctors were unaware that too much oxygen in incubators could lead to blindness. This can cause posterior fibrous dysplasia, which is present in infants of low birth weight, but is most common in babies born prematurely.

Hesketh’s retina was damaged, leaving him unable to see shapes and most colours, although he could distinguish between day and night.

For more than 20 years, he and Shackleford have attended football matches at South Granville, and Shackleford’s descriptive commentary helps him “watch” the game. Decades of memorizing plays, options, offenses, and defenses informs a player or team’s next move.

When Shackelford asks Hosketh what he thinks will happen next, he will review the information he knows and come up with an answer.

Most of the time, he is right.

002 Football Friends
Tom Hosketh, left, listens as Hayden Shackelford presents a game play from a home game at South Granville High School. Hesketh is blind, and Shackleford tells him the play. The two have been in most home games for Husketh University. Dustin Deung UNC Media Hub

Longtime football fan

“Nineteen seconds left, Tom,” Shackelford says. Next week, South Granville plays Hillside High School, who has strong quarterbacks and offensive plays. “Half a quarter. gun position. One goes back to the background. Split wide and left, back to pass, and throw to — oh, caught, Tom! ”

South Granville does poorly in one thing: “There’s no ban,” says Husketh. Hillside does well in terms of containing and receiving, and the captain plays with pinpoint accuracy.

Hesketh began attending football matches when he was 17 years old in 1969, when his older brother, Bill Hosketh, joined the South Granville football team. Their mother was a school teacher.

“I asked my mum, does he want us out for away matches,” said Hosketh. He said, “Yeah, but, Mama, if you get hurt, don’t go out there in the field.” “

Standing on the sidelines, Hasketh and Shackelford took a few close calls. The stray ball will fly in their direction, getting very close. The player or coach will retrieve the ball and talk to Husketh, who is called a “No. 1 fan,” according to Shackelford.

South Granville football coach Michael Hopgood began coaching at the school in 2005.

“When I first started coaching at South Granville, he was the first to call me—and I had no idea how he got my number, but he did when I got the job—and congratulate me,” Hopgood said.

During the call, Hosketh mentioned that he was blind and asked if he could stand on the sidelines, which is how the arrangement was made.

Since 2005, Hobgood and Husketh have spoken extensively on the phone about the team. Who started at quarterback this week? How is this player’s ankle injury?

“We don’t have a lot of media coverage, we don’t have a lot of newspaper articles written about us or anything,” Hopgood said. “He’s really doing his homework to figure out all this information, even asking about it. So, it’s really amazing how in-depth he’s looking at it all the time.”

Hosketh is also an avid North Carolina State University fan. He was an annual holder of three NC State football tickets for nearly 45 years and only missed one game. Shackelford attended some of these games with him.

Five years ago, there was a hurricane during the season, and other schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference canceled their games. North Carolina has not.

“I told Tom, and Tom said, ‘Shall we go? ” “I said no! I’m not going out with fools! was on TV. And oh man, there were people who only wore a pair of shorts. And the wind was so bad that it was hard to see the match, because the rain was moving sideways.”

Not much could be done to prevent Husketh from watching the football game, other than the dangerous weather.

Husketh loves to hear the crowd scream and cheer for their teams. The excitement in the air cheers him up as he shouts the whole time, “Go, go, go!” to South Granville.

003 Football Friends
Tom Hosketh stands on the sideline during a home game at South Granville High School. As an infant, an excess of oxygen in his incubator caused posterior fibrodysplasia, which damaged his retinas and caused him to become blind. Dustin Deung UNC Media Hub

Experience the game in a different way

But there is a difference between experiencing the game and analyzing it. To say that he “imagines” the game is incorrect. Hesketh memorizes the numbers and names of the key players, but does not have a grid in his mind about where the players stand.

Hopgood will watch his team play, for example, and have a visual perspective on how players block, move, or throw the ball. But if something doesn’t happen the way he expects, he can figure out what’s wrong before watching the recording later.

“I’m sure we have different views on different things, but I think they are more alike than one might imagine,” Hopgood said.

There are other aspects that help Husketh understand how football works, too.

When Shackelford first met Husketh, he said that Husketh knew what football as a sport was, but was unable to conceive of how it was played and what the players did.

“So, what I did is I got some shoulder pads and a helmet and I put them on and beat them up a little bit,” Shackelford said. I said, ‘That’s nothing compared to if you hear those big claps over there — that’s what you hit. “

001 Football Friends
Tom Hosketh (left) and Hayden Shackleford stand on the sidelines behind the home bleachers during a game at South Granville High School. Hasketh and Shackelford got permission from Michael Hopgood, the head football coach at South Granville, to put themselves closer to the action. Hesketh is blind, and Shackleford tells him the play. Dustin Deung UNC Media Hub

Shackelford also directed Husketh around the field to help him determine the distance the players were traveling. 10, 20, 30 yards. If the player goes 30 yards, this is the distance the players need to make the first move. Shackelford led Husketh from the 20-yard line to the 30-yard line, cementing in his memory the distance players needed to travel to score.

However, this tutorial was at Husketh’s request.

“Tom has a tendency – if he doesn’t remember something, he’ll ask,” said Shackelford. “He’s not ashamed of it.”

Husketh’s prized possession is the Amazon Echo Dot, which comes installed with Alexa. A gift from his nephew, he uses it for football radio broadcasts, 1950s music, and more.

“I wouldn’t trade it for nothing,” he says.

But even though he can count on the radio or comment for the announcer at football matches, Husketh is still full of questions for Shackelford, Hobgood, and anyone who knows the sport. He called Shackelford before the game to make sure they were still together, and then called afterward to talk about what happened – why South Granville won, why they lost, and why certain players did certain things.

“And then that week until the next game, we keep talking about what Coach Hobgood needs to do to prepare for the next team, weaknesses and strengths,” Shackelford said. “This is his dialogue. This is what he wants to talk about.”

004 soccer friends
Hayden Shackleford (right) jokes with Tom Hosketh (left) as they leave the field after a home game at South Granville High School. For more than 20 years, the two men have attended football matches at South Granville, and Shackleford-Hosketh’s descriptive commentary helps him, who is blind, to ‘watch’ the match. Dustin Deung UNC Media Hub

The tradition continues

43-0.

In an unfortunate match for South Granville against Hillside, the players line up on both sides of the field, ready to part.

Standing up from his makeshift seat, Shackelford dusts himself off and tells Husketh it’s game over. He flails Hesketh’s arm around him, preparing to walk off the field and into the bumpy gravel parking lot.

In some ways, it’s bittersweet. For these high school students, it’s one step closer to graduation, adulthood, and a world outside of those moments on the football field.

However, Hasketh and Shackelford will return for the next home game, just as they have been for the past 20 years.

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