By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half
Larry Prout, Jr., who wears Pinckney football jersey number 6, stands 4-foot-8 and 85 pounds.
Or slightly less than one pound for each of the 105 surgeries he’s had in his young life.
He can’t play football — his body is much too fragile, despite a strong desire to play the game — but he makes his mark with the Pirates as an inspiration.
And the Pirates put a spark into a young man who has spent a large portion of his life in hospitals.
“Everyone gets pumped when he’s around,” Pirates senior quarterback Joe Bona says. “How could you not? Larry’s a great kid, an awesome, awesome character, and what he’s gone through should push us, because it’s way harder than what we’ve ever done. I think it pushes and makes us work harder.”
Larry is the sixth of six children of Kathy and Larry Prout Sr., who have made countless trips to emergency rooms when a medical emergency has cropped up in young Larry’s life.
At one point, their living room was a hospital room for Larry, complete with bed and medical equipment as the Prout family rallied around him.
He was born with no skin covering the lower half of his torso, leaving his internal organs exposed.
He spent most of the first 18 months of his life in the hospital, and didn’t breathe on his own until he was 3 years old.
“His first word was ‘lucky,’” Kathy Prout said in a 2016 interview. “It was the craziest word. It’s like a three-legged dog named Lucky, you know? That was his first word, and we would die laughing.”
He was included as much as he could be in his siblings’ hijinks, although he spent much of his time at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. But Larry Jr. became well-known among Wolverines fans during the 2016 season for the inspiration he was providing to the U-M football team, with Bleacher Report referring to him as the “heartbeat of Michigan football” in a 2017 report.
He’s making that level of impact on his favorite high school team now as well.
"Being part of Pinckney and Michigan means a lot," Larry Jr. said. "It’s been really fun, seeing the players and coaches; it’s the same as at Michigan. I love going to the games and sitting on the sidelines before kickoff, and seeing my players and my friends, my best friends, and seeing Coach Jim (Harbaugh) and Coach Rod (Beaton).
Larry is home-schooled because his body isn’t strong enough to allow him to attend school on a regular basis. He takes electives at Pinckney, including photography, and loves being at school, although his parents had to set some limits.
“We found out that every time we dropped him off at school, he would go out and find Rod (Beaton, Pinckney’s football coach),” Kathy said.
“We told him, once a week,” Larry Sr. said. “Rod’s got work to do.”
That may be, but Beaton returns Larry Jr.’s admiration.
“It goes without saying that he’s truly an inspiration,” Beaton says. “I’ve never met a young person with a more positive attitude than Larry. He really does bring it every single day, every time he’s here.”
Larry also has carried the flag during Pinckney's "No Quarter," the pause between the third and fourth quarters where a student picks up a black or red flag, depending on how the Pirates are faring, and runs back and forth in front of the bleachers to rev the Pirates crowd for the fourth quarter.
He practiced at home before carrying the flag in both of Pinckney's games so far this season.
His peers return the love, too.
Last spring, Larry Jr. planned to attend Pinckney’s prom, but had to miss it due to a hospitalization.
When Larry Jr. got out of the hospital, a classmate, Alex Williams, put on her prom dress and with some fellow students put on a prom for Larry.
“We have some outstanding kids here,” Beaton said, “and it goes to speak to what we have in this community. Our kids come from such great households, with parents who raise these kids the right way. They understand what Larry’s situation is, and it uplifts us all, every time he’s out here.”
The same, the Prouts say, goes for Larry.
“I remember I loved school,” Kathy said. “I loved it when my older kids were in school. You get the pencils and the pictures and the new clothes. With Larry, I have anxiety and stress because he wants to fit in and make friends and take six classes when he can only do two or three.”
Including Larry Jr. in activities like the prom and football means a lot to all of the Prouts.
“We have a lot of gratitude, and we don’t know how to show it enough,” Kathy said, ‘We want to show our gratitude to Rod and all of the players because they’ve made Larry feel important, such a part of this Pinckney football team. It’s something we’ll never forget, something Larry will never forget.”
Larry Jr. was a part of the Michigan football team for three seasons, and among his close friends is reserve Buck West, a former Pinckney standout who often is seen at the Prout house watching game shows with Larry Jr.
“I love watching Family Feud and Steve Harvey,” Larry Jr. said. “(The Pirates) are like my brothers, just like Michigan was.”
Larry Jr. got connected to the Michigan team through an organization called Team Impact, which connects youths with life-threatening or chronic illnesses to college football teams.
Dan Kraft, the son of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, invited the Prouts to Ford Field when the Patriots played a preseason game there last month and got them passes to be on the field during pregame.
“As I was hanging out, the camera was filming me and they said Team Impact had a surprise for me,” Larry Jr. said. “And the craziest thing is, I see Tom Brady coming up and giving me a fist-bump and a high five. I shook his hand and told him I loved seeing him play. He pointed to my (Michigan) hat and told me to make sure to beat the Buckeyes this season. I told him I would make sure to do that.”
After Brady left, Larry Jr. jumped for joy, no mean feat for a young man who uses a wheelchair for anything but short walks.
“When he gets excited, he jumps,” Kathy said. “He can clear eight inches, which is pretty awesome, because they said he would never walk.”
At Pinckney practice, Larry Jr. hands out encouragement and banters with players who are, in many cases, a foot taller than him.
While he basks in the glow of being part of a team, he contributes to the Pirates something they might not have learned otherwise.
“The lesson I take is that it’s not as bad as what it’s going to be,” senior running back Sal Patierno said. “What we go through, you just think of what he’s gone through, and it makes you want to go harder. Just keep fighting. I know he’s fought harder than any of us.”
“It makes you think,” Bona said. “It makes you work harder.”
“He uplifts us all, every time he’s out here,” Beaton said.
PHOTOS: (Top) Larry Prout Jr. carries the Pinckney "No Quarter" flag in front of the crowd during the Pirates’ Week 2 game at Chelsea. (Middle) Then-senior Pirates quarterback Jack Wurzer spelled out Prout’s name on his helmet in 2017 from bones the players receive for outstanding efforts. (Below) Prout’s friends put on a prom for him after Prout, in purple shirt and tie, missed the school’s event this spring while hospitalized. (Photos courtesy of the Prout family and Tim Robinson.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)