After nearly an hour of tight-lipped half-smiles and bashful gazes up into the cameras and crowd at the Clover Community Center, Noah Robbins said the two most important words of the morning.
The 8-year-old, surrounded by his loving parents and adoring new friends at the Clover Police Department, leaned into a patrol car’s radio mic and quietly announced “Officer Lionheart.”
It was official: Noah was part of the team.
“I think initially, he was scared of so many people knowing his story,” said Noah’s mom, Lori Robbins, looking on with a broad smile. “But now that the officers are with him, I know he’s going to have a fun day.”
Noah offered few thoughts Thursday morning when he was publicly sworn in as an Honorary Clover Police Officer for the day, but looked at his happiest when he got to play catch with an officer’s K9 or see the bright blue lights of a Clover cruiser.
Born with a congenital birth defect that resulted in the amputation of one of his legs at the age of 1, Noah is often shy and reserved when meeting with new people. That changes when he’s on the gridiron, according to his parents.
A tight end with his pads on, the rising second-grader at Kinard Elementary loves to tear up and down the field with his friends, and competes just as hard as any of them, his parents said.
Chief Randy Grice said his Clover police officers first noticed Noah during one of those gridiron performances, at a D2 Blue Eagles summer football and cheer camp last month. The officers were so taken with Noah’s spirit, they wanted to have him become one of their own.
“He doesn’t let the prosthesis get him down,” Grice said. “He was just as active as anyone out there. It inspired us to do a better job of what we do, and we wanted to have him involved with us.”
The nickname “Lionheart” tips a cap to that undeniable spirit. Noah earned the moniker from his first football coach four years ago, who believed his passion and love for the game was “unteachable,” Lori Robbins said.
Officers from both Clover and the York County Sheriff’s Office showered Noah with gifts and kind words, including T-shirts, a lunch box and an autographed football. One gift, from a member of the U.S. Army, seemed to strike a chord with many in the crowd.
First Sgt. Anthony Farmer presented Noah with a special coin that Farmer had received as part of a “Welcome Home” package after a 13-month deployment last year to Kuwait. When Farmer heard of Noah’s story Thursday morning, he made sure he was in attendance.
“It shows that the community cares,” said Farmer. “It doesn’t matter what adversity you’re going through, you’ve got to continue to fight and strive through for the best.”
Noah’s father, David Robbins, said the family has been living in Clover for about three years since living for more than a decade in Charlotte. When Noah became school-age, his parents felt they should move to a smaller community so that he had a better chance of fitting in with his new classmates.
David Robbins said that moving to Clover was “one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”
“(Noah’s) not one to want to be seen as different,” said Lori Robbins, as Noah settled into the front seat of a police car. “He wants to be treated just like anybody else and be like any other kid.”