Danny Reed (left) and Thomas Patteson (center) helped Judge David Holton, who is blind, call the Western-Central football game Friday night.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Judge David Holton began his brisk walk from the parking lot at Western High School 27 minutes before kickoff of the Warriors' soggy game against Central Friday night. As always, Buddy, Holton's unflappable Labrador retriever, was his lead blocker.
Holton locked arms with his good friend, Thomas Patteson, who was waiting with printed rosters of both teams. He listened to a pitch for concession stand specials, shook several hands and then carefully wound his way through the aluminum bleachers.
The final 11 steps were the toughest.
A nagging rain made the steep climb tricky, even for Buddy, who is nearly 13. Patteson stopped, picked up the 75-pound dog and carried him to the press box. Holton quickly followed, assisted by Danny Reed, another friend. Never mind the rain.
"Let's get to work," Holton said, smiling wildly. "There's nothing better than high school football on Friday night."
David Holton is blind.
Two seasons after Holton announced games at Manual High School, he has transferred his public address talents to Western this year. With the eager assistance of Patteson and Reed, who relay the play by play, Holton called every play, the Pledge of Allegiance and the concession stand specials of chicken sandwiches and barbecue.
"Judge Holton's story can't be told too many times because it's so inspirational," said Reed, a Jefferson County sheriff. "Kids especially need to hear it. David is an extremely brilliant guy – except he doesn't understand the meaning of the word can't."
David Holton can't surrender to can't. People have been saying that about Holton since he was 10. That's when he lost his vision. A brain tumor pressed against his optic nerve. No more football, a game Holton loved.
But that love prospered even after his sight disappeared. Holton focused on listening to games on the radio, especially University of Kentucky games called by his favorite announcer, Cawood Ledford, the Hall of Famer.
Holton worked his way through Morehead State, where he was voted student body president. He earned his law degree at UK before returning home to Louisville. Holton currently serves as a District Court judge. Holton, 51, works directly on the line of scrimmage during life's grittiest collisions.
On Wednesday, a man that Holton once sentenced to jail approached the judge on a park bench near the courthouse and told Holton that he had treated him unfairly. On Thursday Holton had to make a difficult ruling on another man who entered his court in handcuffs after he allegedly made a threatening phone call from jail.
That is his world. So is this. On Friday night, Holton exhaled and celebrated his return to calling high school football, a 20-17 Central victory.
"There's nobody in this community who has been more fortunate than me," Holton said. "After I lost my sight when I was 10 years old my life could have turned out a whole lot different than it has.
"Thanks to the grace of God and great parents and great teachers and friends, I have a great life and I have an opportunity to give back to the community. I just believe that we have a responsibility to give back."
Volunteering at Western qualifies as giving back. So is serving as the chairman of the board for Seven Counties Services and working with a local Veterans' group. Holton lives several miles from the school. His wife, Stephanie, works at Western High School. Athletic director Bob Johnson and principal Michael Newman knew Holton's story as well as his passion. They made the offer last summer.
Holton called games at Manual several years ago, working his way to varsity games in 2011 when his son, Brooks, played for the Crimson. He punctuated that season by also calling one KHSAA championship game at Western Kentucky.
This is how it works: Patteson researches the teams on the Internet before the game. He prints out rosters and numbers. Then he and Reed surround Holton in the press box, working their binoculars to get the details correct on every play. They relay the information to Holton as quickly as possible.
"It goes straight from my eyes to his ears and he relates it to the people," Patteson said. "Being a Cawood fan, he's always looking for a way to spice it up and phrase it differently."
Indeed. Holton does the rest, calling every play as if it is the most important play of the season. And it is – for every player and his family and friends. Holton knows that.
"I don't go through my day in an effort to inspire others," he said. "I go through my day to enjoy my life and try to have a meaningful life and contribute to my community. In the course of doing that, if that causes someone to be inspired or someone to take note, that's just part of it. That's a good side effect of what I do, I guess."