- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

DEWEY, Okla. (AP) - Dewey residents have known for a while that it takes a lot to stop Kobe Blackmon in an athletic venue, whether it’s football, basketball, baseball or track.

Late in 2014, national viewers also learned that when they saw a video clip on the USA Today website that showed Blackmon, in a sixth-grade football game, make an incredible play to chase down and strip the ball away from a receiver who was about to score a touchdown, and then take the ball himself 95-plus yards for a TD in the other direction.

Plays like that earned Blackmon, a running back/safety, an invitation to play in the Bret Cooper Junior All-American Bowl in Dallas - the only Oklahoman selected that year, the Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/2lh2Y5u ) reported.

As an eighth-grader, Blackmon is still showing incredible determination and that he’s hard to stop, but in a much different way on the basketball court.

On May 25, Blackmon was in a four-wheeler accident at a friend’s home in Bartlesville. The four-wheeler struck a tree and Blackmon suffered a traumatic injury to the nerves and blood vessels of his right brachial plexus. Those nerves carry signals to the shoulder from the spine. His dominant right arm was completely paralyzed.

After three days in the hospital, Kobe returned home. On Sept. 12, Kobe underwent a 14-hour surgery in St. Louis where nerves were transferred from his ribs and legs to repair the plexus. He had another surgery six weeks later. His parents, Mark and Christy, and Kobe are hopeful that the surgeries and potential future surgeries will enable him to eventually regain at least some movement in and use of his arm.

“It may take six months to get some flickering,” Christy said. “We’re not sure how much he’ll get back, but obviously he’s not letting it get in the way.”

Kobe was eager to resume his athletic career right away - and so was Dewey basketball coach Lance Knight.

“He is one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever coached,” Knight said. “I’ve known him since sixth grade. You could see him run away from people on the football field. Even with one arm, he’s still got his speed and aggressiveness.”

Kobe, a 5-7 guard whose favorite NBA player is Kyrie Irving, plays with only his left arm as he wears a special harness that keeps his right arm inside his jersey.

“In my first game I was wobbling a little bit; but now I’ve gotten used to it (the harness),” Kobe said. “Coach Knight treats me just like I had two arms. I could barely shoot a free throw at the beginning of the year. My shooting has gotten better and my ball-handling is getting way better. I love to steal the ball and I’ve always been able to jump high.”

When the season started, Kobe didn’t know how much he would play for the Bulldoggers.

“In that first game, I didn’t think he would put me in,” Kobe said. “I was really nervous, but then I got a couple of steals. I thought other teams might take it easy on me, but they don’t.”

Kobe’s parents were assured by his doctor that although he doesn’t have a lot of protection in the shoulder area, they should let him play if that’s what he wanted.

“I was worried about him falling and I’m still kind of nervous watching him,” Mark said. “He doesn’t have any quit in his heart.”

Kobe has impressed his team.

Kobe has went through a lot, he is the strongest person I know,” said teammate Jared Rogers.

Knight marvels at Kobe’s determination and performance. Except for when he was sidelined a few weeks by the second surgery, Kobe has seen significant playing time in all the games, starting some of them, and has made several baskets.

“I never thought that he couldn’t play,” Knight said. “In most games he is still the most athletic one on the court. The injury has not affected his attitude and heart.”

Kobe’s parents are thankful for Knight giving Kobe an opportunity to play basketball.

“A lot of Kobe’s rebuilt confidence came from coach Knight and basketball,” Christy said. “Kobe has kept us strong. He doesn’t question, ‘Why did this happen to me?’”

Kobe’s final basketball game of this season is 6 p.m. Feb. 9 against Salina in the Big Eight Conference Festival at Chelsea High School’s practice gym. Then, his athletic attention will turn to track, where he excels in short-distance races. And he’s looking forward to being back on the football field next fall after missing the past two seasons. As a seventh-grader, he was sidelined with a torn hip flexor.

While in St. Louis, the Blackmons met Lebanon (Missouri) senior Lakiah Capps, who also suffered a Traumatic Brachial Plexus injury in a four-wheeler accident when he was an eighth-grader. Capps, who has the same doctor as Kobe, also was a multi-sport star who returned to basketball using one (his left non-dominant) arm as a sophomore. On the football field, he became a starting safety and kicker during this past season.

“Meeting him gave us inspiration,” Mark said.

They also draw inspiration from former Tennessee defensive back Inky Johnson, whose career ended when he suffered a Traumatic Brachial Plexus injury in a 2006 game. He has since written a book, produced a video and become a motivational speaker.

And Kobe’s return to athletics has been uplifting for others.

“About after every game we get people come and tell us what an inspiration he is,” Christy said. “He has been such an inspiration to me and we are extremely proud of him.

“My relationship with God has grown a lot stronger since the accident. Kobe hit the tree head-on and he was without a helmet. It could have been a lot worse, but he landed on his shoulder. I believe that all this happened for a reason so that Kobe can be an inspiration.”


Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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