Joey Kimball is a very special kid.
Like many other 11-year olds, Joey loves sports. He also loves to help people in every way he can.
This year he’s been manager of Key Peninsula Middle School’s wrestling team––which means he was responsible for cleaning the wrestling mats, folding and handing out uniforms and other housekeeping tasks.
What makes Joey unique, though, is that he is developmentally delayed. And he’s essentially non-verbal.
“I’ve always been concerned that people might treat Joey different, but here in the Key Peninsula the people and the kids have really accepted him,”said Joseph Kimball, Joey’s dad. “They don’t treat him any different than others and they’re always happy when they see him.”
Ever since Joey’s older brother, Kody, played football with Peninsula Youth Football, Joey has wanted to play sports too.
He became part of the KPMS wrestling team when he was appointed manager last fall.
“He’s a huge fan of the team. He loves all sports. The minute the whistle blows, he’s on his feet cheering and yelling for the team,”Kimball said.
Now Joey is even getting a chance to participate in some wrestling matches, thanks to PYW coach, Bill Miller.
Joey’s dad has mixed feelings about that.
“I don’t know if he’ll ever actually wrestle in a match, but what matters is that he’s being accepted and the other kids really like him,” he said.
Tony Cornejo, 13, is one of Joey’s school teammates. “I thought it was pretty cool when they brought Joey in as manager because he’s always there helping with the mats and he’s a pretty cool dude to hang out with,”Cornejo said.
“We look past his disability and we don’t let it get to us. We’re not going to judge him based on his physical aspects. He’s a great kid with a great attitude. He’s always happy and happy to help you. I think he would be pretty good at wrestling too,” he said.
Jayce Richerson, an 11-year-old teammate who has been wrestling for eight years, agrees.
“I’ve known Joey since first grade. It’s great to have him on our team because he always helps clean up and he’s a lot of fun. I think it would be great for him for him to get out there and work out in a match. I don’t know what the other kids think, but I think of him like a brother to me,”Richerson said.
Kody Kimball, Joey’s biological brother, often helps Joey with his manager duties and also helps him practice his wrestling moves.
“I love to help him,”Kimball said. “He’s my brother. I mainly help him mop the mats, fold the uniforms and give them out to the wrestlers.
“When I’m wrestling with him, I can tell that he’s really having fun. He has a disability but he can still wrestle and he loves it. I hope he’ll get a chance to wrestle in some matches while in the Peninsula Youth Wrestling league,” he said.
Jennifer Moberg coached Joey’s sister, Alli, in softball, and has known Joey since last spring when he started showing up at Alli’s practices.
“I think some coaches get nervous when a sibling shows up at a practice because it’s a distraction. But I have six kids of my own so I’m not that way,”Moberg said.
“When Joey came on the field during Alli’s practices he had his glove and wanted to shag balls and always just wanted to help. He was even more prepared than some of the players,”she added with a laugh.
“He’s so spirited, and just won my heart right off the bat,” Moberg said.
Bill Miller, Joey’s PYW coach, first met Joey as a fourth-grader at Vaughn Elementary.
“I was a para-educator there. At the end of the day Joey and I would go around and pick up recyclables and trash from each classroom. Staff and students drew to him like a magnet.
“I think the reason they did that with Joey is because he’s so social and so happy all the time. I think it’s hard for anybody to not initially like him,” Miller said.
This past fall, Miller and Joseph Kimball had a long conversation about Joey joining the wrestling PYW team.
“We decided it would help him socially,”Miller said.
Coach Miller has two goals for Joey: “He has the same rules as everybody else. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone so we want to get him as many real good matches as we can ––maybe kids that are a bit younger and smaller,”he said.
Miller’s second goal is to set up solid matches where Joey learns something.
“I want the other teams to find good, experienced kids to wrestle with him who won’t hurt him, but will help him learn new things,”he said.
“And I think other teams’kids will learn something too. The older kids who have been with Joey for several years, they already get it ––the honor element and respect. Other kids can learn that too,” Miller added, beaming a smile before a practice at KPMS.
Moberg (the softball coach) has two kids on the wrestling team, and feels Miller’s plan is a good one.
“I think this is going to be a huge positive experience for the other wrestlers. Joey’s just a normal kid who wants to be part of things. He loves sports. So why not make him a part of it? He’s always positive, and that can’t help but rub off on others,” she said.
But there’s more to it than just wrestling. “It’s also about this community,”Joseph Kimball said.
“We moved to Key Center from Port Orchard around 2010 or so. People talked about how wonderful the school district is and how wonderful staff are with children like Joey, with disabilities.
“Since we’ve been here, people are just so friendly. We go to the grocery store or to football games and there’s always somebody who knows him, and they’re happy to see him. It’s really amazing and very special,” he said, beaming.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS