VILLANOVA, Pa. — The chant started in the student section and spread through the Pavilion before Villanova hosted Pittsburgh in basketball here last month. An ESPN feature had played on the video boards, and as the building shook with a singsong “Nick and Frank-ie!” Wildcats Coach Jay Wright wiped away tears.
Nick is Nick Gaynor, 19, a freshman manager for Villanova’s women’s team. Frankie is Frank Kineavy, 20, a sophomore manager for Wright, the men’s coach.
Both perform those jobs in wheelchairs, because both have cerebral palsy, which did not stop either from making the dean’s list last semester, or becoming the subjects of a student-produced documentary, or attaining local celebrity status.
Nick’s father is Michael Gaynor, director of university admissions. Three summers ago, he met a family in his office lobby, and told a boy in a wheelchair about his own sons, twins, also in wheelchairs. By conversation’s end, he realized the boy’s parents had also married in the summer of 1986, at the same hotel as his wedding, one month apart. When he told his wife, she produced a newspaper article she had saved, and lo and behold, it was about the boy he met.
The boy’s name was Frank Kineavy.
“I don’t believe any of this was by accident,” Michael Gaynor said. “We’re supposed to be here. All of us.”
Kineavy grew up in Sea Girt, N.J. He cannot walk, write or speak. He communicates with a computer system built into his wheelchair, its keyboard filled with words, letters and numbers, which he taps, mostly with the thumb on his right hand. He is Villanova basketball’s resident comedian.
The basketball team at his high school, for which he also served as a manager, traveled each summer to Wright’s camp, and the two developed a relationship. Wright said half of New Jersey recommended Kineavy, including the football coach Charlie Weis, a Kineavy family friend.
Gaynor grew up in Malvern, Pa. He cannot walk, but he can speak. He once watched “Pinocchio” and asked his father, “Will I ever be a real boy like that?”
He started attending Villanova women’s basketball games more than 10 years ago, bonded with Coach Harry Perretta and became a fixture. As a high school senior, Gaynor took a trip with the team, which he called “the cutest in the country” in a telephone interview.
Greg Hannah is the link between Gaynor and Kineavy. He worked with Kineavy in high school, then came to Villanova, where he serves as an adviser to students with disabilities. Asked to describe his first impression of Hannah, Kineavy typed “cocky” and “but you meant well.” He noted they have spent six years together — or three more than Hannah has known his wife.
“Those are my guys,” Hannah said. “Coach Wright has his guys on the wall. They’re the face of his program. Frankie and Nick are the face of ours.”
Kineavy lives in a campus dormitory. His is the room with the stereo blasting Huey Lewis, Neil Diamond or Hall and Oates. Villanova players said they often saw him on campus, where as guard Dominic Cheek said, “he’s rolling around, doing donuts, always smiling, surrounded by girls.”
Wright treats Kineavy like any student manager. He watches practice from upstairs, through a glass window, same as the other underclassmen. He banters with the players, and even told Wright recently to “hang it up.”
Kineavy evaluates film of practices and games. He looks for chemistry, energy, all the little things that Wright preaches to his team. Wright said he did not instruct Kineavy to evaluate this way, but Kineavy came to it on his own.
After one rough stretch this season, Wright drilled his team on fundamentals, using basic drills like the three-man weave. Kineavy’s evaluation of that practice echoed Wright’s priorities. “He picked up concepts on what we do quicker than any player, or any person, in our program,” Wright said.
Speaking of perceptive, when asked about the Wildcats’ chances in the Big East tournament this week, Kineavy, aware of Villanova’s four straight losses, typed, “Next question.”
Gaynor lives at home but spends his days on campus. Like Kineavy, he takes classes, works with Hannah, meets with tutors; a mostly typical college life, just as he had hoped.
Perretta said Gaynor is often at the practice facility until it closes. He does his homework in a conference room. He helps chart statistics and breaks down film, but his greatest contribution, Perretta said, “is his ability as a motivator.”
He added: “We draw strength from Nick. Way more than he draws from us.”
Gaynor, who correctly guaranteed a Villanova win last Friday, never set out to inspire anyone. But it happened, and largely because the school’s Center for Social Justice Film produced a documentary on both managers.
The idea came from Stephen McWilliams, another adviser for students with disabilities, who wanted to humanize what they go through. In one scene, Kineavy brushes into a man at last year’s Big East tournament, and the man turns to Hannah in anger and says over Kineavy: “I’m pretty uncomfortable with this situation. Can you move him?”
Mostly, though, the piece shows the managers as normal students. It shows the importance of their respective families. It shows two hilarious cutups.
“It’s not like you feel sorry for them,” McWilliams said. “That’s the last thing we wanted to do. We didn’t want the message to be, well, isn’t this nice. If anything, inclusion isn’t the right word. It’s a message of equality.”
Since the documentary came out, the university, the disability office and both basketball programs have received hundreds of letters and e-mails. Gaynor said a family in Minnesota wrote that they now planned to send their son, who has cerebral palsy, to college. The documentary provided a boost in recognition, although Kineavy insisted it came more from Hannah’s “bald head than the wheelchair.” Next season, Wright sees Kineavy in an expanded role. Forward Laura Sweeney said Gaynor could coach, or teach, or spend his life right there, “with the team where he found a home.”
Hannah is focused on finding them a postcollege career, the same as the rest of his students. He continues to push them toward relationships outside the basketball programs, toward engagement in a larger world. He believes they can help each other, and he was surprised recently when Kineavy instructed Gaynor to go to class.
But all the recent attention added another layer to their story, and its importance.
“We have to help them understand that now, the spotlight is on them, and they have to perform,” Hannah said. “If they do that, who knows how many lives they’ll change.”
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
The NY Times:
Posted by BA Haller at 9:04 PM