Bethel Park senior overcomes cerebral palsy to net hat trick
Connor Namuth always has wanted more.
Stricken with cerebral palsy after suffering a stroke at birth, Namuth longed to play a full game and score a goal for the Bethel Park hockey team, which he did on senior night Wednesday against Meadville at Bladerunners-Bethel.
That alone might have been enough for some.
But Namuth, after scoring from the slot in the first period, decided he wanted to try for a hat trick.
So the 18-year-old with the limp left leg, who was born eight weeks premature, weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces at birth and is a veteran of five major surgeries, parked himself in front of the net.
The result was a pair of deflected pucks in the third period that gave Namuth a hat trick during Bethel Park's 7-0 victory over Meadville, something that had Black Hawks coach Jim McVay and others choking back tears.
“The kid's had five surgeries in his life, and he's 18 years old. I've had three surgeries in my life, and I'm 44,” McVay said. “Talk about perseverance.
“It was one of those moments … I just started crying.”
Namuth's dad, Mike, emceed the senior night festivities and delivered an emotional speech about how Connor has inspired others through his desire to play.
“He's taught me more about dedication, perseverance and a never-say-never attitude than I could ever teach him,” Mike Namuth said. “He's been a true blessing.
“As a parent, it was amazing to watch the other parents, his teammates and the student section get all excited when he scored. I couldn't have scripted it any better.”
After a fifth surgery this summer rendered Namuth unable to do much on the ice, the former junior varsity player decided to hang his skates up and become a coach.
He earned his Level I coaching certification and worked with the team three or four days a week.
Yet Bethel Park's players wanted to schedule Meadville — a nonleague opponent — for a senior night game so Namuth would be eligible to play.
For a whole game this time, too: In a tournament last month at Bladerunners-Harmarville, Namuth begged his parents, Mike and Joni, to let him play. He lasted only two shifts.
Namuth, who has had hip reconstruction surgery and walks with a noticeable limp, jokingly bet one of his friends, Ryan Sosnak, $100 Wednesday morning that he would score a hat trick.
Late Wednesday, Namuth texted Sosnak, who plays basketball and was at his team's game against Peters Township, to let him know he would have to pay up.
“He probably won't pay me $100, but that's not the point,” Namuth said. “I just wanted to prove him wrong.”
Just like Namuth wanted to deliver a hip check to conventional wisdom when he started skating at age 8, enamored with the sport his cousins played and one that was much faster-paced than baseball.
Skating is easier than walking for Namuth, his father said, though his foot still turns to the inside and he has to lift up his leg when he skates.
This past summer's surgery was performed to release his Achilles tendon, Mike Namuth said, and to again adjust his left foot due to severe pressure ulcers.
Connor Namuth doesn't deny his physical limitations, but he also has a reputation as a heady player with a soft set of hands, something that had plenty to do with his two deflection goals.
“He knows where to be,” said Bethel Park captain Derek Lesnak, Namuth's best friend and one of those responsible for organizing Wednesday's game. “He doesn't have as many physical gifts as other players, but he's sharp.
“He knew where to be, got his stick on the puck, and they went in.”
Namuth works a part-time job at Giant Eagle and tries to be around the team as much as possible.
Few things make him as happy as the camaraderie developed inside the locker room.
“I used to tell him when he was little and played hockey, ‘You have a handicap. It just means you have to work harder than everybody else,' ” Mike Namuth said. “He's taken it to heart.
“He's never made excuses. Never asked for anything special. In his mind, he thought he could do everything everybody else did.”