On Colton Keator's first day of high school lacrosse practice, the freshman told Central York head coach Tom Mayne that he wanted to participate but couldn't handle any contact just yet.
"Why? What's wrong?'" Mayne asked.
"Well, I just had brain surgery," Keator responded, showing Mayne the scar on his head.
The 14-year-old was just months removed from a serious brain surgery that removed a nickel-sized, binary tumor. It was revealed in an MRI after Keator had gone through 20 to 30 uncontrollable seizures a day through his middle school years. The seven-hour surgery resulted in a three-day hospital stay and a month-long absence from school — a fast recovery, according to his doctors.
And here he was, ready to get back to playing the sport he had adored since he first played in sixth grade.
"As a coach, I'm thinking to myself, 'How in the world are you here?'" Mayne said of his first encounter with Keator. "His head was still shaved and he showed me the scar. I told him I needed to see a note or something. I needed to know it would be safe to have him play. I thought, 'This poor kid, he's not even going to make the team.' But he's been ready since Day 1. He's fearless, he's a scrapper, and nothing was going to stop him from playing."
Mayne trusted doctors and the Keator family, who said it would be safe for him to play. And for Central, it has worked out. Keator, who is now a senior midfielder, turned into a "solid role player," according to Mayne.
But his medical issues weren't over after the surgery. There was the kidney stone caused by one of his medications. And the migraines — which Keator describes as an 11 on the pain scale of one to 10 — have plagued him throughout his high school career. He has gone months and years at times without a seizure, but every now and then they'll pop back up, including once during a game against York Catholic. Keator felt that one coming, he said, and managed to get off the field before he blacked out and collapsed.
He has missed just two games his entire high school career — the York Catholic game he left, and one other game after he had a major seizure in class.
"He was still back in the locker room trying to play," Mayne said. "His friends and teammates all love and support him. They worry when they see his seizures, but he's right back up and in the locker room the same day."
Make no mistake, this isn’t a charity case. Keator isn’t on the team because anyone feels bad for him or wants to make him feel better. He’s on the team because he deserves to be there.
"He's not looking to get pitied or treated special," Mayne said. "He just wants to go out and play. He's an amazing kid with an amazing attitude."
Keator hasn’t hidden behind his medical issues, he’s embraced them. He introduced himself to a classroom full of his peers by showing pictures of his brain surgery – blood and all – during a class presentation at the beginning of the semester.
“When I heard I would have surgery, I honestly thought it might be pretty cool,” Keator said. “My family was more nervous, especially my mom, but we had one of the best doctors around so I wasn’t worried.”
Mayne chuckled at the idea of a 14-year-old being so calm and collected heading into a major brain surgery.
“That’s just his personality though,” Mayne laughed. “He’s unflappable. You have to give him credit for his bravery.”
Mayne isn’t the first or last to marvel at Keator, but the young man gets uncomfortable when he’s called an inspiration. He doesn’t quite see it that way.
“I never really thought that’s how I would be described,” he said. “I just focus on now and try to get through each day. I look forward to college (Coastal Carolina) and my future.”
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