Niagara-Wheatfield senior QB ready to play again after health scare in winter
By David Yarger
For some athletes, football is a way of life. Some players relish the opportunity of being between the lines, from goal post to goal post.
For Niagara-Wheatfield High School senior quarterback Jordan Parks, his true love is the game of football. This past winter, though, that love was almost taken from him.
During basketball season, Jordan missed out on a practice and told his mother, Jennifer, he wasn't feeling well. That day would bring about a big change in Jordan's life.
He fainted in his kitchen and was left unconscious. Jordan's father, Johnny, felt a slight pulse on his son, while Jennifer called 911.
"I was able to revive him," Johnny said. "He looked at me and said 'Dad, I love you,' eyes rolled back in his head. ... I kept telling her (Jennifer) it's OK, he's going to be alright. ... Probably one of the scariest experiences I've ever experienced."
Town of Niagara Active Hose showed up to the Parks' house to aid Jordan, where it was decided he would head straight to Children's Hospital. Upon arrival, Jordan was admitted to the intensive care unit. After a three-day stay, Jordan went to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, where a heart monitor was implanted to regulate his heart rate. Information from the monitor is sent monthly to the Parks, and in the case of emergency, the family is alerted immediately.
Jordan had suffered an irregular heartbeat - something doctors told him was one in a million in his case, being an in-shape athlete in good health.
For Jordan, a usual three-sport athlete between football, basketball and baseball, sports were put on hold - and there was no timetable for a possible return. The matter was more than athletics, though.
"Just knowing that everything could come to an end, just kind of thinking the worst things, like not being able to play, let alone not being able to live. Doctors said I might not be able to play my senior year, which kind of put things into reality to the point where I had to get my health back together before I was worried about playing football again," Jordan said.
Jordan was a big part of the Falcons' rushing offense in 2017, as he rushed for 997 yards. His coach, Russ Nixon, though, put football off to the side when he heard about the incident.
"Your first reaction is, 'Is everything going to be alright?' There's so much more for these young kids now than just football. Jordan being a young guy, he's got his whole life ahead of him, so to hear that he had this scare and this medical issue, you don't even think about the athletic part at all. You just think about this young man's well-being.
"It definitely was a shock. He's one of our better conditioned athletes and to hear that he was having these issues, it made us all open our eyes real wide and make sure everything was alright with him," Nixon said.
For Johnny and Jennifer, knowing how much Jordan loves sports, it was upsetting to hear athletics could be taken away.
"The reality of it was seeing him in ICU and knowing that this is it - it was hard to swallow that pill. Not knowing that we'll ever see him play again, it put life in perspective. ... So, for him not to play, it was kind of hard for us," Johnny said.
Although the spring baseball season was taken from Jordan - a disappointment, because he's played since he was 4 years old - Jordan was cleared for a return to football in the fall. The clearance came while rumors rose that he wouldn't play again - a true joy for Jordan, his family and Nixon.
"I had to start light, gain my strength back and work my way up. It feels great. Just kind of knowing that six months ago I wouldn't have been here, but now that I'm here it's one of the greatest feelings in the world," Jordan said.
"It was a relief," Johnny said. "There were a lot of people out there spreading rumors that Jordan was done and it was a relief because all of his friends knew that he was the kid everyone looked up to. And, for me, I could breathe and enjoy his senior year. ... A big weight was lifted off my shoulders, because I wanted to see him finish."
Nixon said once all clearances were received, he didn't want Jordan to rush back into things.
"Our focus was to just to start easing him and making sure that things were good - that there wasn't any reoccurrences of the issue he was having. ... He's really responded to everything really well. We know Jordan's a talented athlete and being able to put him on the field just gives more options and opportunities to make those big plays on offense and defense," Nixon said.
On nerves heading back to field after the occurrence, Jordan claimed he had none. His parents, however, were a little nervous, but said they're confident, because Jordan will have extra padding around his heart. Jennifer said doctors told them Jordan is safer playing football than baseball, due to extra safety precautions and equipment in the game.
Nixon said he was happy to learn Jordan would be able to play his senior season.
"Right after he had the scare, I looked at him and I told him, 'While football is important and it's a big part of your life, it's not your whole life, and you've got a whole life ahead of you. And, so, we're going to take it one day at a time, and do what is in your best interest.
"I'm glad for him that he'll get his senior and he'll be able to play at the level he's always played, because senior year is important for everyone. Especially, when these guys have come through the youth program together and they got started when they're 6-7 years old, and now they're 17-18 years old - this is really their last chance to play together with their neighborhood buddies," Nixon said.
For Jordan, senior year is especially important, because he'll be thinking of two very special people near and dear to his heart. His friend and teammate Michael Ziegler, who tragically passed away this past winter, and his coach and mentor Anthony Gilmore, who was diagnosed with throat cancer in February.
"It's everything," Jordan said. "Just knowing Mikey, he would've loved to be out here with us. He would be out here trying to hit people. Then, Gilmore, with everything he's done for me, he's pushed me through everything, he's coached me - he knows what I can do. And now I know I gotta prove it to him."
Johnny knew how important the upcoming season is to Jordan as well, and he said Jordan just wants to be successful for them.
"He always wanted to make a name for himself at Wheatfield," Johnny said. "With Gilmore helping him throughout everything and pushing him, when Jordan was in the hospital, Gilmore would call him and text him every day and made sure he was alright.
"When Jordan was 4, he was playing football with Mikey when he was 5. They developed like a brothers bond."
This year, Parks revealed his cleats would honor Ziegler, as well as Chris (CJ) Gordon, who taught Jordan how to become a quarterback, with initials - MZ on one cleat and CJ on the other. Gordon tragically passed away three years ago and was the father of Jordan's teammate Chris Gordon III.
For Jordan, he said he learned a lot during the life and death situation, but gave a bit of advice to those who may face the same challenge:
"Just kind of get through it. It's hard, you're gonna think the worst things. You just gotta get through it, think positive, rely on the people around you, your family and your friends," Jordan said.
Jordan and the Falcons open their season at Terry Harvey Field on the N-WHS campus at 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 1, versus North Tonawanda.