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'Lead with love': NKY student with special needs hits the court, dribbles his way to a dream come true

The high school senior lives with a rare genetic disorder
Jacob Arnold
Posted at 12:08 AM, Jan 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-28 15:47:26-05

UNION, Ky. — One Northern Kentucky high school student has always dreamed of playing alongside his teammates. On Friday, his dream came true.

Jacob Arnold, 18, is a senior at Ryle High School. An avid sports fan, Arnold grew up with a love for the game — football, baseball, basketball, you name it, but his path to playing wasn't always certain.

"When he was born, we basically got a grim diagnosis," dad Marc Arnold said. "We basically got a diagnosis of what his life was going to be like."

Arnold was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome. It's a rare genetic disorder that results in a number of physical, mental and behavioral problems. A key feature of Prader-Willi syndrome is a constant sense of hunger.

"The hypothalamus part of the brain doesn't function properly so food has to be strictly monitored, calories have to be very strictly counted," his mom Stephanie Arnold said.

Ryle High School Student Jacob Arnold

Those with Prader-Willi syndrome usually have trouble controlling their weight. Many complications of Prader-Willi syndrome are due to obesity.

There is currently no cure, but it can be managed with a controlled diet.

Despite his challenges, Arnold overcame the barriers. He plays several sports in the Special Olympics and serves as manager on Ryle's football and basketball teams.

"Typical kids, non-typical kids, any and all — you just want them to be accepted right?" Stephanie said.

Ryle High School Student Jacob Arnold Special Olympics

Friday was Senior Night at Ryle High School as the boy's basketball team took on visiting Bourbon County Colonels.

For the first time in his four seasons with the team, Arnold was selected to be in the starting five.

"Really special," Arnold said. "I was excited and I was surprised."

As an extra honor, Arnold was among five seniors presented with banners, which hung above the court, and was walked to center court by his parents.

"The student-athletes, for them to say that, 'Hey, we have Jacob's back this much that we want him to start, we want him to play,' — just tremendous pride," principal Matt Shafer said.

The school's motto is "Lead with Love," a sentiment Shafer said is carried out each and every day in the school, but especially on the court Friday.

He said it wasn't the coaches, but the team that voted for Arnold to start the game.

"Don't lead with hate," Shafer said. "Think positively of people."

The varsity team invited Arnold to dinner the night before the big game. Despite initial concern given his disorder, Arnold told his parents he wanted to go and "be with the team." Marc said it was a good thing he went, because the Raiders presented him with his own team jersey.

It was a simple gesture that made an unforgettable impact because all eyes were on No. 45 Friday, watching as he shot the team's opening layup, swishing his legacy as a Raiders great.

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