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Shortly after Newtown High School’s girls’ soccer team dropped its first game of the season, to Daniel Hand of Madison, on October 14, Coach Marc Kenney had some tears in his eyes.
The loss, however, had nothing to do with it, and the coach actually found a silver lining in the defeat. What had Mr Kenney emotional was his reflection on the start of the night, when his son, Jordan, sang the national anthem as part of the soccer team’s March of Dimes fundraiser.
Jordan and his brother, Ryan, were both born prematurely. Mr Kenney and his wife, Kateri, received support and resources from March of Dimes to ensure the health of their sons who, today, are healthy.
Mr Kenney has endured many so-called “painful losses” on the soccer field, but he and his wife realize March of Dimes are largely responsible for them not suffering two major losses in life.
“We’re indebted to March of Dimes,” said Ms Kenney, adding that both children were very sick when they were born. “We feel we needed to give back.”
The March of Dimes is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the health of mothers and babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. Each year in the United States, 380,000 babies are born prematurely. There was no admission charge for the game but the team accepted donations, sold t-shirts commemorating the event, and held a bake sale. The Newtown Soccer Club was involved and will donate a portion of its proceeds from an apparel sale to March of Dimes. Members of the Nighthawks wore special gray uniforms with purple lettering and numbers in honor of March of Dimes.
“It was horrendous. It was the worst time of our lives,” Ms Kenney said of the long, scary process of her children developing, during which there was a real fear they might not survive.
Jordan, born April 23, 2009, was born at 32 weeks in Waterbury Hospital and spent three and a half weeks there. He weighed four pounds at birth. Ryan was born on December 8, 2011, at only 25 weeks. Immediately upon his birth, Ryan was transferred by ambulance to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the UConn Medical Center in Farmington He weighed only 2 pounds and had a host of other medical problems including a bronchopulmonary dysplasia and an intraventricular hemorrhage-grade 4 as a result. Ryan spent close to five months in the NICU.
“If this was 30 years ago it would have been a much different story,” Ms Kenney said. “Hopefully we can save other babies and raise awareness about the great things March of Dimes does.
“It’s a blessing that they’re so healthy and they’re perfect,” Ms Kenney added.
Both children, following in the footsteps of their parents, are very athletic. Jordan plays soccer, basketball, and baseball; Ryan plays tee ball, and soccer, and is giving gymnastics a try. Ms Kenny was a soccer captain at Eastern Connecticut State University. Mr Kenney was a soccer goalkeeper at Central Connecticut State University. Both played basketball in high school. They were three-sport athletes as she ran track and he played baseball.
Jordan had never sung in public, and made his parents proud, putting his voice out there in front of a big Blue & Gold Stadium crowd.
“I was a little nervous but my mom had the lyrics,” Jordan confessed.
Although he will have a bigger grasp of the scope of all of this down the road, Jordan knew this was an important event.
“I was a preemie,” said Jordan, pausing to confirm that was the right word with his mom, while his dad met with players at halftime of the game. “So he wanted me to sing on this night.”
“For my kids to be here is amazing and so special,” Mr Kenney said.
Mr Kenney is a teacher at Newtown High School, and Ms Kenney, a former Newtown High teacher, now teaches in Watertown, but both have come out of the experience of having premature babies feeling more like students of life than teachers.
“Nothing’s guaranteed in life. I’m a planner and my wife is a planner,” said Kenney, adding that they both have Type-A personalities. “It’s a smack in the face that ‘Hey, you’re not in charge,’” Mr Kenney said. “You don’t always choose your charities. Sometimes they choose you.”