Cole Fenton never desired the spotlight.
The York College men’s lacrosse manager just wanted to help make his team better in anyway he could. In turn, however, the Spartans' players, who considered Fenton a teammate, inspired him to achieve things he never dreamed possible.
Although he couldn’t catch a lacrosse ball when he got to York College his freshman year, Fenton’s hard work and dedication to become the best teammate he could be were recognized recently when he received the 2018-19 Capital Athletic Conference Medal of Inspiration.
Fenton was born with radial longitudinal deficiency, a condition where the radius bone in the forearm is underdeveloped or absent. It required 26 surgeries.
Unable to participate in contact sports because of his condition, Fenton found another way to have an impact on the team.
Wouldn’t give up: For an hour each day, without his teammates or coaches knowing, Fenton tossed a ball against the slanted wall on the walkway to the field so he could become a better teammate.
“It was kind of just a pride thing,” Fenton said. “I knew the team was going to be good and if I was going to be able to keep up with them and help out the best I could, I needed to up my game.”
Fenton spent the free time he had between practices and classes working on his skills and traveling with his lacrosse stick and a bucket of balls in his car. When nobody was using the field, he spent some time taking shots.
“I would go out with my bucket of 15 balls, lose all of them in the first 15 seconds, and then go and do it again,” Fenton said.
A good sense of humor was a key for Fenton in overcoming the difficulties involved in teaching himself to throw and catch. He said that he joked with his teammates about having four fingers on his right hand. Keeping things light with the Spartans was important to him.
Hard work pays off: So, when Fenton was finally able to have his first catch with a teammate, he couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I just kind of started laughing and had a big grin on my face,” Fenton said. “I was like, ‘I’m doing it.’ It was like riding a bike for the first time.”
The joy he felt after his first catch, however, was just a taste of the happiness he would enjoy later during the greatest moment of his Spartan career.
During the 2018 season, York College coach Brandon Childs talked to his brother, Jason Childs, the coach of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and they arranged for Fenton to enter a game and cross off the top item on his bucket list — scoring a goal.
Fenton received a pass from a teammate on a hidden-ball trick and ripped a shot past the goalkeeper. The Spartans’ bench spilled onto the field and lifted Fenton into the air.
“That was one of the craziest days of my life,” Fenton said. “It kind of felt like I blacked out a little bit because it happened so fast and everything was so awesome. I couldn’t tell you what I did that morning, I couldn’t tell you what happened immediately after the goal. It was just one of the best things ever.”
Earning respect: The thing Fenton said he was most proud of in his career was that he earned the respect of his teammates and made the manager title something that could be worn with pride.
He said that when he started with the Spartans, he thought the position required being in the background, but realized that wasn’t true as he became a real member of the team.
“You don’t have to be behind the scenes, you can be up front,” Fenton said. “You can be whatever you want with it, you just have to make it your own, and I think I did that well at York.”
Brandon Childs told US Lacrosse Magazine that he didn't like to label Fenton as the team's manager because he was so much more to the team.
“He’s not our manager,” Childs said. “He just serves everybody. You can’t spend every day trying to serve other people without people falling in love with you.”
Fenton said that after he finishes an internship program to complete his recreation administration degree, he will begin to look for jobs. He added that if any members of the Premier Lacrosse League were looking for managers he would be there in a heartbeat.
Don’t hold back: Having a community and a team that were so supportive allowed Fenton to open up to his teammates and work through any issues he had. Fenton said his teammates will be his brothers for life.
For anyone who struggles with something that is holding them back, Fenton has a message that helped him battle through the difficult times he endured, while becoming an inspiration to many.
“There are things you can control and things you can’t control and you have to realize that and respect that,” Fenton said. “At the same time, work with what you got. You only get one set of cards to play so you might as well play them to the best.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.