LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Louisville football team is preparing for one of the biggest games of the season when the Cards take on Clemson at noon Saturday at Cardinal Stadium. For 4-year-old Allen Norton, however, halftime will be even bigger. He'll get to lead the Cardinal Marching Band.
Allen, who was born with Down syndrome, is a ball of energy, always on the go and a huge Louisville fan. But he wasn't always unstoppable. He had open heart surgery at just 9 months old.
"When he was about 6 months old, he was starting to tire out quickly with physical therapy and occupational therapy, said Allen's mother Mary Beth Norton. "They went ahead and did a heart cath and determined that one of the holes was very large, and it need to be repaired."
For his parents, it took an emotional toll.
"It was very scary not knowing what would happen," Mary Beth Norton said.
Doctors with Norton Children's Heart Institute, affiliated with U of L, were able to repair the holes. Now, Allen and his family go back once a year for checkups, and the prognosis looks good.
"Hopefully, it will stay that way and as he gets bigger everything will kind of grow the way that it's supposed to and we won't have to have any more surgeries," Mary Beth Norton said.
Allen's story will be shared with thousands of fans who pack Cardinal Stadium when U of L takes on Clemson. The boy will serve as honorary conductor when the Cardinal Marching Band takes the field at halftime.
"We want to be apart of something that's much bigger than us as a band," said band director Amy Acklin, who dreamed up the idea after being inspired by the University of Florida. "These are fighters; these are inspirational people. We think this is a very powerful idea that I think will connect with our community."
For Allen's parents, it's a reminder of how far he's come.
"I don't cry very much, she's our crier," said Allen's dad, Scott Norton. "Who knows, on Saturday, I might shed a couple tears because I'll be so excited for him. It's something he'll remember for the rest of his life."
Allen is taking his role very seriously. He's already practicing his conducting skills.
"He's going to do great," Scott Norton said. "He's been talking about it for three weeks in a row so I think he's ready."
Allen is ready to take the spotlight in front of 65,000 fans. His parents are confident the Cardinals fans will eat up his performance. Because nothing scares Allen, even climbing high above the field to director the band. For him, it's just another rung on the ladder of his journey.
"The diagnosis doesn't put a cap on what is possible. And that's what's exciting for us. This is Allen getting to show who he really is and things are really limitless for him," Mary Beth Norton said.
Two other kids will also be honored at halftime, and the band will play a special song dedicated to each patient.
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