KINGWOOD — Just about anyone at Preston High will tell you there’s something special about Keilan Noonan.
There’s just something about how vigorously he lives life, his passion for sports and his pride in PHS that is infectious. According to his father, Brian, it’s a rare occurrence that his son doesn’t brighten his day in some way.
“He always puts a smile on your face, because no matter what, he always has a smile on his face,” he said.
Keilan, of course, finds plenty of opportunity to spread his joy for both life and sports at PHS. The 18-year-old senior is a three-year member of the Knights’ golf squad, and serves as a manager for both the girls’ soccer and girls’ basketball programs.
Keilan’s obsession with sports started early on. His father points to a few reasons it may have sprouted.
“I played a lot of sports myself, so that probably played a role in it,” Noonan said. “But for him, I think it was the first WVU football game we took him to. He fell in love with sports. I’m not from around here originally — a friend took us to our first WVU game, and I saw that passion come out.”
Things easily could have been different for Keilan, though — he suffers from a birth defect known as microcephaly. The cortex in the back of his brain is significantly smaller than the average size.
“There’s a multitude of effects. He is high functioning — he can take showers, feed himself, play sports and such,” Noonan said. “His motor skills are there — it just takes his brain a lot to process in order to do things, such as brushing his teeth, putting on deodorant and such. That part of his brain works a little slower.”
Noonan didn’t want his son to miss out on any chances in life, despite his disadvantage. He wanted to ensure Keilan had an equitable opportunity to enjoy and excel in a variety of disciplines — including sports.
“He’s developmentally delayed, but I wanted him to have the chance to do what all other kids do,” he said.
These desires drove Noonan to seek out any and all extracurricular activities for Keilan as high school approached. That’s where Preston girls’ basketball coach Brian Miller came into play.
“It’s kind of a funny story. Four years ago, he was a freshman, and his mom told my wife she wanted to get him involved at high school,” he said. “My wife brought it up to me, saying that he loved sports and loved basketball and said, ‘We can do this.’ ”
Miller wanted to bring Keilan out, and offered to make him a manager on the team. Four years later, Keilan is a fixture in Kingwood during basketball season. He does pre-game introductions with the squad, and joins Miller on the bench. Now and again, he’ll even help coach the girls, or give them a piece of his mind when they’re not following instructions.
To any players, parents and fans involved with the program, Keilan is practically inseparable from Preston basketball.
“You can’t have a bad day when he’s around. No matter what type of day the girls have had or I have had, when he’s around, within minutes everyone is laughing and having a good time,” Miller said. “He’s brought a lot of positive things to the girls and to the team.”
In fact, Miller believes that even though the gig started as a way to get Keilan involved, it’s been a more helpful experience to everyone else involved.
“The big thing is, I think it’s been more positive for everyone else than him. It started off with the original goal of getting him involved, but he’s probably had a more positive impact on us than we have on him,” he said. “But just helping him get out, get involved and have a good time, that’s what the goal is.”
In addition to his work at PHS, Keilan is involved with the Special Olympics; he golfs, bowls and competes for the Preston County basketball team. Most recently, he qualified for the Special Olympics national bowling championship, in Seattle. He’ll leave to compete at the end of June.
“That’s a big accomplishment for him,” Noonan said. “And what a lot of people don’t know a lot about the Special Olympics is that these kids are close. They form friendships and have a camaraderie together.”
His accomplishments across the sports world are certainly something no one can take away from him, but perhaps most important is the legacy that Keilan will leave at PHS. He has become a symbol of what Preston pride is supposed to be, and has made a genuinely positive impact on most who meet him. His presence has become a foundation for both success and pride at PHS; a mighty impressive feat for just one teenager.
“Since he became the basketball manager, the morale on that team when he’s around is 10 times,
100 times better than when he isn’t around. His pure love for high school sports — it’s hard to explain,” Noonan said. “He’ll cheer every team at Preston on with
100 percent. To put on that PHS logo brings such a joy to him. It brightens his day. I think that’s what you call true pride in your school.
“To see when he runs out before basketball games — he’s the first one that runs out and gets his name called, and the crowd goes wild. That’s the spirit he brings to the gym.”