Some superheroes have all the luck.
Clark Kent was born with his super-human alien powers. Steve Rogers’ shield and super soldier serum were perks from his job as a government guinea pig. Along came a spider and bit Peter Parker. For others, becoming a hero takes a little more effort.
Fort Mill resident Burton Campbell, 20, wasn’t born with super powers. At 2 months old, doctors discovered an unknown genetic imbalance: the 21st and 22nd genes on Burt’s eighth chromosome had duplicated. He also had a heart murmur. At 6 months, Burt underwent open heart surgery.
Burt’s mom, Karen Hucks, remembers being told her son would never walk, never talk, never even recognize her. Still, she found the doctor’s advice to “put him in a home and forget about him” unthinkable. The intense emotions she experienced two decades ago are still clear in her voice as she describes the day last spring, when she mailed the doctor a letter with photographs of Burt driving a lawnmower and attending his class’s graduation ceremony from Nation Ford High School.
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“Don’t put limitations on your child,” said Hucks, an accountant at a local law firm.
“Don’t listen to what people say they can or can’t do. Without Burt, I would probably be on the career path to lots of money and lots of selfishness. He has shown me what life is about.”
Burton Campbell is not afraid of limitations. At night during baseball season, this unlikely hero dons his No. 19 Falcons uniform and heads to the dugout.
Burt is Batman.
Neuroscience professor E. Paul Zehr, author of “Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero,” explains in his book why the Caped Crusader is a hero cut from different cloth:
“Batman represents the pinnacle of human performance and is the perfect superhero to think about for possibilities,” he wrote. “Frankly, there is nothing supernatural about his abilities and he is pitched as a human with powers that seem within reach. But are they? And the bigger question, why should we care? The reasons, I suggest, are grounded in boundaries we set on our own performance abilities.”
Falcons varsity baseball coach Michael Matkovich explains how it all began:
“Burton and I became acquaintances about five or six years ago. It started when he and a special-needs teacher would come in to the weight room to clean off the equipment. At first Burt was very shy around most people, especially males. But as time went by we noticed him starting to open up a little more to me. Soon he was talking to me, with little or no eye contact. Then it came about that we gave each other a high five. From there our relationship became stronger. He would ask for me in the halls or we would give a high five walking down the hall.
“The most special moment was when Burt came up and hugged me. I cannot remember when or where that was but I know it was something that Burt did not do too often. So we made a connection. I cannot tell you how that made me feel to see that I was making a difference in someone else’s life, even if it was only something as small as a hug. I was an assistant coach back then. Burt’s mom asked me if it would be OK if he could be our bat boy for the upcoming baseball season. After I got the approval from the head coach – well, the rest is historyI do not look at Burt as our bat boy. He is as much a part of this team as myself or anyone on it.”
All good superheroes have their weaknesses. Storm doesn’t do well in elevators. The Green Lantern can’t tolerate bananas, and Indiana Jones is terrified of snakes, but none of that matters much. Weaknesses do not define a superhero – his power lies in the way he makes use of his unique abilities.
One of Campbell’s true powers is that he loves the Falcons no matter what. When asked to describe his duties as bat boy, Burt sums it up pretty quickly:
“Get the bat. Give the umpire a hug. Say ‘It’s OK. It’s OK.’”
“He’s the most encouraging person I know,” Hucks said. “These kids just touch everyone’s lives they come into contact with. It’s amazing.”
Sophomore shortstop Clay Hunt describes how Campbell’s attitude affects the team:
“Every time I see Burt he puts a smile on my face. He is a great guy and supports me and the team no matter what the score is. Burt is a pleasure to have in the dugout and cheers us all up when we are down.”
Campbell really shines when tensions rise, as they did during a recent playoff game. The pitching was off. The other team was strong. Conversation among a few of the coaches took a turn toward the cynical until Campbell chimed in, agreeing with them whole-heartedly.
Instantly, it triggered a collective laugh at themselves and brought everyone’s heads back into the game.
“Even though he serves as the bat boy I believe his presence serves a higher purpose,” Matkovich said.
“The players, coaches, and fans all love Burt. He makes everyone who comes into contact with him smile. He brings me down to earth when my emotions start during the course of a game.”
After five seasons with the Falcons, “very shy” is no longer a term to describe Campbell.
“Burt doesn’t know a stranger,” said senior third baseman and pitcher Josh Corley. “He is always upbeat and positive with everyone. He kept the dugout exciting and had us in the game.”
“Burt brings energy and fun to the dugout,” he said. “He is always talking to players or asking the questions Burt loves to ask. It is part of who we are as a team. The nights when Burt does not make a game, the players wonder and ask why he is not there and really miss him when he is not at our games.”
Matkovich said he learned a lot through his relationship with Campbell, and it isn’t just about baseball. The coach explains that his son Peyton, 4, was born with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder affecting fewer than one in 15,000 people.
“I also have a little boy that has special needs,” Matkovich said.
“I am not so sure Burt didn’t come into my life for a reason. I think he has done more for me than I can ever do for him. No matter how bad my day is going Burton can make all of that go away almost instantly. He is a very special young man and I am proud that he is a Nation Ford Falcon. As long as I am the head coach at Nation Ford he is more than welcome to continue his duties as long as he wants.”
Campbell currently spends most days at school. Special-services students are eligible for classes after their graduation ceremony, but they age out of school at age 21, and Campbell and the rest of his 18- to 21-year-old class spend class time volunteering at the Fort Mill Care Center, his mom said. She anticipates major changes to daily life and to her career after Campbell ages out of school next year.
“Things are definitely harder. There are definitely ‘challenges.’ You have to learn to work around them. You don’t sweat the small things. You don’t sweat the big things either. Ever.”