Parkinson’s doesn’t stop former NCSU Pack assistant coach Horton, from teaching life and football

We have been married for 20 years.  United in our goals of raising a compassionate family who is making a difference, not only on a football field.  We just happen to believe, people with disabilities can do amazing things!
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Don Horton has coached 15 offensive linemen who have played in the NFL. He was once named by ESPN.com as one of the two best offensive line coaches in the United States. He gained national prominence as a longtime assistant to former N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien.

Now he is an assistant coach at Ravenscroft School.

And he loves it.

“I got into coaching because I wanted to have an impact on young men,” Horton said recently, before going out into the rain for a Ravens practice. “I hope these guys that I’m coaching now will be better men because we worked together.”

Horton has Parkinson’s disease. He has had the chronic and progressive movement disorder for about seven years. Boxer Muhammad Ali and actor Michael J. Fox have Parkinson’s, which can cause trembling hands, uncontrollable tics, stiffness, unsteadiness in walking among other things. Symptoms can worsen over time. There is no cure, and the cause of the disorder is unknown.

The disease has affected Horton’s speech and his movement. Former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson once needed to help him button his shirt after a game.

But Parkinson’s has not affected his desire to help young people.

Mike Fagan, a 6-foot-2, 320-pound tackle at Ravenscroft, said he is a better person because of Horton.

“First thing, he is a remarkable coach,” Fagan said. “He has so much knowledge. Learning from him has been immensely profitable.

“And to know what he is going through and how he is handling it is inspiring. No matter what obstacles you come up against, you shouldn’t ever give up.”

Horton, who has coached for 34 years, can still motivate players.

Don Horton - Ravenscroft

“Oh yeah, when he wants you to hear something in practice he gets his point across,” Fagan said. “He can get pretty emotional.”

“It’s tougher in high school to have an impact because you don’t have the time,” said Horton, 55. “You don’t meet and watch film together like you do in college. But you’re still trying to do the same thing – teach them the basics, the techniques – and trying to have an impact on their life.”

Coaching at Ravenscroft has given him the opportunity to continue doing what he has wanted to do essentially his entire life. He resigned from coaching in 2012 but continued working in football operations at State until this spring when he said he was fired less than a month after brain surgery.

“Don always has wanted to be coaching kids,” said Maura Horton, his wife of 20 years. “I admire that. He found what he wanted to do and pursued that. He hasn’t changed.”

He moves more slowly now. Some physical changes seem to happen overnight. Other changes have been so gradual that he didn’t realize they were happening until he noticed a major change.

The incident with the shirt button inspired Maura Horton to develop clothing that can fasten using magnets, an example of how the family has worked to adapt to Horton’s condition.

“I take umbrage at the term resilience,” Maura Horton said. “The lives of our children (daughters who are 10 and 6) have been changed forever because of Parkinson’s. The lives of our children have changed for the better because they have seen how their father has faced this.”

Toughness

Horton wants to keep coaching football, a sport he considers the last bastion of toughness.

“You get knocked down, you get up,” he said. “You lose, but you don’t quit trying. You push yourself farther than you want to go, but you keep going. Football teaches toughness, physically and mentally.”

Horton was excited when Ravenscroft coach Ned Gonet offered him a job because he believes he still has things to offer young men.

“I hope he’ll have me back next year,” Horton said.

No worries there, Gonet said.

“We are honored to have such a man be associated with our program,” Gonet said. “Not only does he do a tremendous job with the kids, he has been great for our coaching staff.”

Horton started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at New Mexico State, Ohio State and Virginia before he got his first head coaching job in 1977 at Norfolk (Va.) Catholic. He led a program that had scored 18 points the previous season to a 4-6 record. He is still in touch with some of the players there.

Joe Sparksman, a Department of Corrections probation parole officer in Raleigh who was a runner and linebacker at Norfolk Catholic, said Horton inspired him years ago and inspires him today.

“He has been tough,” Sparksman said. “Just watching him handle everything thrown at him has been an inspiration. He was tough as a coach, but he was a coach who stressed that I was a student as well as an athlete. There was never any question that he wanted what was best for me.”

Wittenberg University, Horton’s alma mater, offered him a job as an assistant in 1978 and he remained in college coaching until arriving at Ravenscroft.

Horton said there has been little adjustment to teaching high school players after working for years with much bigger and stronger college players.

“It’s relative,” he said. “In college, those 6-5, 280 guys play against other 6-5, 280 guys. High school players, 6-3, 230, play against high school players about the same size. Most of the college players know they aren’t going to play beyond their senior year and so do the high school players. It’s about the same.”

And the lessons taught through athletics are the same, too.

Horton and his wife were talking about that just the other day.

Life is not always fair, but you have to keep getting up.

Link

Don Horton Steps Down

NC State tight ends coach Don Horton will no longer coach, but will remain on the Wolfpack staff as the assistant director of football operations, the school announced on Thursday.

“It is with great excitement that I approach the next step in my professional career in athletic administration,” Horton said in a prepared statement. “Coach [Tom] O’Brien and NC State athletics have offered my family and me a great opportunity to become involved in the administration and I am extremely grateful. I would like to thank all those who have made this next step possible.”

“I am thrilled to have Coach Horton continue in his career here at NC State,” O’Brien stated. “As a member of our staff for the past 15 years, he has been more than an excellent football coach. He has also has done a tremendous job developing young men and setting high standards when it comes to hard work and how to do things the right way. In his new role, he will continue to benefit everyone associated with this football program, and we are as excited about this opportunity as he is.”

Horton began coaching at Ohio State in 1982 as a graduate assistant. He made coaching stops at nine other schools and made the trip to NC State with O’Brien in 2007. He has mentored more than 15 NFL players and has coached in 12 college bowl games.

 

Our Starting Point. I have good news…. I have Parkinson’s Disease!

When I married at the tender age of 24, my mom had told me that the things that will shake your foundation will come at the least likely of times. Ours happened on a random Tuesday morning when the sun is shining and the world was still looking bright. That’s exactly how I remember the day that I got the phone call from my husband relaying the news of his latest doctor’s visit. On this perfectly great Tuesday, I was in the car listening to a Laurie Berkner CD, driving our three year old to an art class. Nothing strange, just Don calling, much like clockwork, at 11:30 sharp. The funny thing is, that when he called, he said, “I have good news. I have Parkinson’s Disease.” Literally, I stopped in my tracks, and asked, “this is good news?”, and he responded, “Yes, Dr. Hayes said there will be a cure in our lifetime.” And, just like that, life resumed. He went back to work as a college football coach at Boston College, and I went about my day. But, despite the “good news”, questions began to form. Within a few hours, panic set in. What did this mean? How would we cope? We have a three year old and are trying desperately for another child to complete our brood…

We reconvened at home that evening. Both of us were separately searching the internet for answers, and both of us were at a loss for words. Which, is not unlike Don and his quiet reflective nature but definitely unlike me who feels compelled to be heard. I’m sure that is a product of being raised in a family of eleven siblings. Phone calls to were then made… disbelief ensued… second opinions were urged…. and later a lengthy denial persisted. Never in motion was a written plan of attack ever drafted, but in the quiet of our own home, we often discussed the strategy of how we would handle this information.

Unfortunately, in the athletic world there are no signs of weakness allowed (that are actually made known out loud); that’s the law of the jungle. The weak are discarded. Only the strong survive. So, after much thought and consultation, our plan was that we would tell immediate family only, and Don’s boss, head coach, former marine, and well respected friend, Tom O’Brien. Though I wasn’t there the day this discussion happened, Don has told me that it was short and sweet and no time for concern.

Shortly after the diagnosis, Don’s commitments with Coach O’Brien brought us to Raleigh, North Carolina. We would be soon be discovering a new environment, great challenges professionally, and a very odd beginning to new friendships. You see, it’s not often that you have to explain why your husband may speak softly, freeze in a chair, or not be able to move his left hand to someone that you’ve never met. Though I don’t believe that you should feel the need to explain, we were now in the South where everyone knows everybody’s business. And as a result, we secluded ourselves and became a much stronger family unit. Despite the change in lifestyle, we were happy, and had a new daughter in the mix.

In the midst of a relentless coaching battle to improve a new program at NC State, Don started to show outward signs of his disease. The hours of a coach are grueling, and I truly mean giving 24 hours of one’s self to not only to better the program, but, more importantly, to the development of its young men. But this was his passion, and he was becoming frustrated by the lack of movement his body was beginning to trap him in. I recall the night he came home after a game, and I’m not sure if they won or loss, but I’m SURE he can recall that fact. I was sitting at my computer and he said to my back, “…hard day today”. I replied something sarcastic, like “what was your offensive line thinking”, or “how many sacks were given up?” He said, “no…hard day today”. I knew better than to turn around. In the 3 ½ years since he was diagnosed, we had never discussed his difficult days with Parkinson’s because neither of us would actually give in. I just asked what happened. He said, “I was stuck, stuck in the locker room, and I couldn’t button my shirt.” I remained silent. He told me that Russell Wilson had helped him. Then very slowly and he told me in defeat that a player had to help him get dressed so that he could catch the team plane. I stood up, not addressing the difficulty, and said, “That’s just the kind of person Russell is, Don”. I knew that he was feeling a lack of control, a bit of embarrassment and humility, so to soften the blow, I said, “If anyone understood, it was Russell.”

This conversation churned over and over in my mind. I felt desperate to help him and his situation. How could I ease the burden of the simple task of getting dressed? I spent hours online searching for a solution – surely there were options in menswear. I saw Velcro dress shirts and had them FedEx’d in time for his next trip. Upon receiving them, I was disappointed by their quality. I noticed how thin they were and knew that they would only last a few dry cleanings. I also saw he would still need his dexterity to line it up properly. Then the wheels started spinning, and I had an epiphany – Magnets – why not put magnets on the inside – they would line up independently and I could just convert the existing shirts that he already had. But, after tearing one apart I saw this wasn’t a possibility, the magnets slipped and needed to be sewn into a system. Back to the drawing board, but I knew that I was on the right track. I made a phone calls. I sketched my ideas, and I decided to order a few prototypes. Once the idea felt realistic, I told a few friends. It felt encouraging, and I was so optimistic, I actually flew down to Florida to present the idea to Shark Tank ready to jump in with both feet.

After being chosen as a finalist, I knew that I had a viable idea. I was asked to put together a video to bring to the taping. I shared this with a few friends, and within weeks, I had an investor (and dropped out of Shark Tank). And, long story short, that’s where we are today, finally launching MagnaReady, a magnetically infused dress shirt and the concept of stress free shirting. Obviously aimed at people with limited mobility (and not just the 5 million Parkinson’s sufferers but stroke victims, arthritis sufferers, wounded warriors, etc.), this product could be great for a number of other people (including nursing moms). It is truly our hope that until there is a cure, we can help people who struggle with their daily tasks live a little simpler and help restore a little dignity to their daily routine. After all, getting dressed shouldn’t be a stressful task – Living with a disability is hard enough…