Ocean City Today

Pint-sized player leads SD team

By Managing Editor, Lisa Capitelli | Sep 28, 2017
Photo by: Lisa Capitelli Three-year-old Eli Knox-Tadli, grandson of Stephen Decatur Head Football Coach Bob Knox, leads the team onto the field for their game against Kent Island last Friday, with captains, seniors Justin Manganiello (24), Dominic Klebe (4), Bryce Kalchthaler (54) and junior Sam Todd (75).

(Sept. 29, 2017) Three-year-old Eli Knox-Tadli, grandson of Stephen Decatur Head Football Coach Bob Knox, smiled from ear to ear as he held hands with the Seahawks’ captains and led the team onto the field for their game against Kent Island last Friday.

Walking out of the big inflatable football helmet wearing a No. 1 Seahawks jersey, with wide eyes he glanced up at the players who towered over him and saw the Decatur cheerleaders and band members cheering him on.

“The kids were great with him. Our managers were awesome,” Knox said.

As Knox-Tadli walked past the cheerleaders and band he gazed up into the stands while fans for both teams applauded.

The local community and beyond has been showing its support for the young boy and his family since he was diagnosed last year with a rare and aggressive brain cancer called Atypical Teratoid/Rhabdoid Tumor (AT/RT).

“We’re thankful he’s here and that so many people care about him,” Knox said. “I’m just so fortunate I live in this community and the people in this community are so caring. My whole family is.”

Knox, head coach of the team for three decades, decided to step down for the 2016 season to be with his family as his grandson underwent treatment.

Back leading the squad this year, as long as his grandson was feeling OK, Knox wanted him to be a part of the action.

“When Bob decided to return to coaching we both discussed the idea of maybe having Eli attend a game and lead the team out,” Decatur Principal Tom Zimmer said. “I thought it was just a great night. [I’m] so happy to see Eli and his family be able to be at the game.

“I was glad to see the fan reaction and was impressed with the entire Kent Island sideline standing and clapping as Eli led the team out,” Zimmer continued. “Bob is so respected as the ‘elder statesman’ of football coaches in the conference.”

While watching the game from the sideline, Knox-Tadli also took some practice kicks into a net and ran around with the football. During halftime, he made his way onto the field and into the end zone to score a few touchdowns.

“I know Eli’s mom was concerned that he’d hurt himself at halftime with all the running and flopping he was doing on the field, but it was great to see Eli being a 3-year-old,” Zimmer said. “As a father of three and grandfather of two, I felt Friday was a magical night. I told Bob that in his 35-plus years of coaching he’s had many wonderful experiences on a football field, but that Friday night would be the most special. And he agreed.”

Kent Island led 2-0 at the end of the first quarter. The Buccaneers pulled ahead 9-0 in the second quarter. Midway into the second, Decatur senior John Ford made a 31-yard kick to cut Kent Island’s advantage to six. At halftime, the visiting Bucs were on top, 16-3. They won the game, 30-3.

“A lot of kids fought their butts off and left everything on the field. Some kids laid it all on the line and some didn’t,” Knox said. “I think we were better than the 30-3 score. We had two touchdowns called back [and] mental mistakes killed us.”

Senior captain Tah’jeem Woodland rushed 16 times for 137 yards. Senior Justin Manganiello, also a team captain, racked up 65 yards on six carries.

After the game, when Knox got home he expected his grandson to be sleeping, but he found him sitting on the couch, with a football beside him, looking at a football book.

“He knows a lot about football. He can name every NFL team by their uniform,” Knox said.

And what did he want to do? Play football with his Pop Pop. So, they did.

Knox said all weekend his grandson talked about his experience Friday night.

“It was a night he’ll never forget, for sure. It’s an experience my family will never forget,” Knox said.

Knox’s daughter and Eli’s mother, Jennifer, will be participating in the Race for Every Child 2017, Oct. 21 in D.C. to help benefit the children and families receiving care through the Children’s National Health System.

She is a member of the “Brain Tumor Trouncers Team.”

“We have been so fortunate to receive such excellent care for Eli from the neuro-oncology team at Children’s National – the doctors, nurses and social workers are an incredibly dedicated and supportive group of people who work hard to provide the best care for their young patients and their families,” she said on her fundraising website.

The direct link to her fundraising page is https://childrensnational.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.search&filter=participant&eventID=603&searchTerm=Jennifer+knox.

Decatur will be donating $1 from every $5 ticket sold for last Friday’s game. Zimmer said 620 tickets were sold so $620 will be donated.

Decatur will travel to Ridgely, Maryland, today, Friday, to battle the North Caroline Bulldogs, at 6:30 p.m.

“They’re ranked No. 23 in the state. We need to fight every down to the end,” Knox said. “Hopefully we’ll leave everything we have on the field. Win, lose or draw, I want the other team to feel like they were in a fight. As long as you’re in the fight you have a chance to win.”

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