Garner student manager Declan Newkirk inspired a football team, and a town with his enthusiasm and loyalty.
And the rest of the state noticed.
Newkirk, a senior on the autism spectrum, was named the N.C. High School Athletic Association Spirit of Sport award winner for the 2016-17 year. He will be honored at the NCHSAA Annual Meeting in Chapel Hill on May 4.
The award is for individuals “who exemplify the ideals of the positive spirit of sport that represents the core mission of education-based athletics.”
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He was always on hand to assist with equipment in practices or on game days, but he was more than an assistant. He boosted the morale of his teammates with his encouragement.
“Declan is a rallying point,” Garner senior Collin Eaddy said last fall. “You’ve got your ups and downs, but Declan is the constant.”
Newkirk, nicknamed “Dec-Man,” was a vital part of program.
“This is a community that embraces this football team,” coach Thurman Leach said. “And Declan is part of that team, so we embrace Declan. ... There’s only one Dec-Man.”
Said kicker Noah Giroux: “He’s everybody’s friend. ... He goes around the locker room talking to everybody. ... He’s very much the heart and soul of the team.”
Former Garner football coach and athletic director Nelson Smith called Newkirk an inspiration.
“Everyone needs to live their life like Declan,” he said.
Declan’s father, Sam Newkirk, works for The News & Observer.
In a statement, NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said. “Declan embodies the true spirit of education-based athletics. He has demonstrated great dedication to both his team and community. His enthusiastic attitude and his perseverance in duties as a football manager at Garner High School for the last four seasons as well as his integration into the fabric of the team and school communities, make him a perfect selection for this award.”
Read our feature story on Newkirk from Nov. 11 by clicking here.