Each morning, Charlotte Catholic quarterback John Walton is up early. He wants to get to the southeast Charlotte high school in time to lift weights before the first bell rings at 7:40 a.m. He also helps get his twin sister, Megan, ready. She rides with him to school. Every morning, Megan patiently sits and watches her brother lift weights, waiting for him to walk her to class.
“It’s been awesome,” Walton said of his relationship with his sister.
Megan, two minutes younger than her brother, has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that often appears in infancy or early childhood and can permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination. According to the website cerebralpalsy.org, there are more than 750,000 U.S. adults and children living with the disease. For Megan, cerebral palsy affects her speech more than anything. John said it’s often hard for others to understand what she’s saying, but he always does.
“Most people think it might be hard, but I’ve loved it. Our bond has become extra close,” John said of his sister. “She signs to speak a lot and I’ve learned a lot of her signs, so she can always let me know what she’s doing.”
Friday night at 7:30, 17-year-old John will lead Charlotte Catholic into the N.C. 4A championship game against New Bern at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.
Megan comes to all of John’s games and he makes sure to get to hers. She plays soccer, basketball, baseball and bowls in a Weddington-based league for children with special needs.
“Sometimes,” John said, “I think, ‘Why her?’ But she supports me every game, win or lose. I go to her games and sometimes I act as a buddy. It’s great to see her get a chance to play.”
Each other’s biggest fans
Megan has attended Catholic for two years, after enrolling in the school’s Modified Academic Program. The Waltons’ father, Brian, said it’s been hard for John to watch his sister struggle to learn to walk and talk, but said the siblings are each other’s biggest fans. That’s something Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz has noticed.
“He takes great care of her and watches over her,” Brodowicz said. “This is a unique relationship that I have watched. It’s fun as a coach to watch the interaction like that between a brother and a sister and especially someone with special needs and to just see the way she walks around school, and it’s great to see the other kids be so respectful and caring.”
Brodowicz said he’s also enjoyed watching John Walton mature as a quarterback. He was named starter in the preseason before his junior year this fall. Longtime Catholic coach Jim Oddo had retired and All-America running back Elijah Hood graduated. One of Brodowicz’s first decisions was to move Ryan Miller, who started at quarterback in the 2013 season, to halfback.
Brodowicz wanted to take advantage of Miller’s athleticism by getting him the ball in the open field more, and he’d always been impressed with Walton’s poise as a junior varsity quarterback, thinking that Walton would be the right guy to lead his team in 2014.
It appears Brodowicz was right on both counts.
Move worked out for both
Miller has run 75 times for 742 yards, a healthy 9.9-yard average, and scored 12 touchdowns. He has caught 34 passes for 714 yards and eight more scores. Walton has completed 71-of-131 passes for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In the semifinals against Vance last week, Walton had one of the best games any quarterback at Catholic has ever had. He completed 14-of-16 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns as the Cougars rallied to beat Vance 35-34.
“I remember my nephew, Jack, completing 5-of-7 for 170 yards and five touchdowns against Olympic one night,” Brodowicz said, “but that was not to the extent where we had to throw the ball in a pressure game. Those throws Friday had to be meaningful.
“They had to be put on the spot on third-and-long on key drives. But since ninth grade, I’ve always known (John) had a great presence. Being a quarterback in college and all my life, you sometimes know when kids have that ‘It’ factor.”
Now four quarters away from a state ring, Walton is eager to play in front of his sister one more time.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of this any other way,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, people doubted us a little bit, not knowing what to expect. You’ve got to give the coaches a lot of credit. They have done a great job and put us in positions to win. It’s worked out so well. We keep saying we’re the team of destiny because we’ve had so many close wins. I mean, you just couldn’t draw it up any better.”