Tom Archdeacon: 7-year-old teams with Miami RedHawks in cancer fight

Quintin Richardson at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Quintin Richardson at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

He spent three months in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

He had rounds of chemotherapy and steroid treatments. He lost his hair from one and had his face swell up from the other.

He’s had multiple lumbar punctures, been hooked up to IVs, had PICC lines put in, later had a port installed and through it all has had to swallow pill after pill after pill.

He watched the decline of the little boy in the hospital bed next to him, who was, as his mom now says, “in the final stages of his life.”

And he’s had his own mortality flicker in front of him since he was diagnosed with Philadelphia Chromosome Positive Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) on Feb. 10, 2016.

And yet Quintin Richardson, a 7-year-old second-grader at Marshall Elementary in Oxford, has adopted a new catch phrase recently that flips the script on the darkness he has had to face.

“There’s one thing I hear him say quite a bit that I really like,” Abby Richardson, Quintin’s mom, said with a smile. “He has a unique perspective on things and so he’ll say:

“‘On the bright side of things…’”

And that’s not just a young kid’s Pollyanna posture.

Quintin not only talks about the bright side, he’s now living it.

You could have seen the other day at the Richardson home just west of Oxford. They’re building a new garage and so far just the cement floor has been poured.

That’s fine with Quintin. He and younger brothers Jase and Grant have converted it into a makeshift hockey rink and after school on this afternoon Quintin was out there with a buddy going at it as if they were on an NHL sheet of ice.

Then there was Halloween night when Quintin made the trick-or-treat rounds dressed as a Toronto Blue Jays player.

You could have seen some more brightness this fall when he played flag football in Oxford. It was the same when he was a standout shortstop and pitcher on his Little League team this spring and summer. And at the end of this month there’ll likely be more of it when he starts playing in a basketball league.

Miami coach Chuck Martin and Qunitin in the RedHawks dressing room. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Miami coach Chuck Martin and Qunitin in the RedHawks dressing room. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

But where you especially see it is when it comes to Miami University football.

It’s not just that he loyally supports the team, but it’s in the way the RedHawks players and coaches cheer mightily for him.

Soon after Quintin was admitted to Cincinnati Children’s 21 months ago, a goody basket — complete with a Miami football jersey — arrived at the hospital. More importantly, head coach Chuck Martin called the family offering full support that continues in glorious fashion to this day.

Part of the connection is because the Richardson family is tied to the school. Abby graduated from Miami and so did her husband, Jake, who was a punting legend for the RedHawks a decade or so ago.

But the real reason for the embrace is that that’s just what Martin’s teams always do.

When he was guiding Grand Valley State to a pair of NCAA Division II national titles a dozen years ago, he was also making sure his players were involved in good deeds in the community and that included a trip to New Orleans to rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina.

Since taking over the floundering Miami program four seasons ago, he has revived the RedHawks’ football fortunes while also making sure his team looks out for its fellow man.

With Quintin — and, before that, Liam Kauffman, a young Cincinnati boy also battling ALL — he and his staff and players have gone out of their way to make them a part of the team.

Last February, on national signing day, the RedHawks had 4-foot-3, 78-pound Quintin sign a letter of intent just as the other recruited players did. There was even a mock signing ceremony at the school.

This season Quintin has been to practices and games. He’s been in the dressing room, on the sidelines and three weeks ago he rode the team bus to the game at Kent State, stayed in the team hotel, ate meals with the players and attended meetings, too.

Over the summer, because his compromised immune system made visiting the public pool a risk, he was invited to swim in the pool Martin’s family has.

And Chuck, his son and a couple of his son’s buddies walked over to the Little League field near their home to cheer on Quintin, who was playing in the championship game.

“I don’t know if Coach Martin and the other coaches and players truly realize the impact they have not just on Quintin, but our whole family,” Abby said. “It’s been good for all of us.

“They’ve really been wonderful for Quintin. They take his mind off things and make him feel special. They’ve become a part of him. He always knows they are behind him and that affects his outcome.”

She said her son, who’s now in remission, draws on that football connection now when he struggles with his daily medications:

“He might be having a tough time taking his pills and then he’s like ‘OK, I can do this. My football RedHawks are cheering for me.’ ”

Stunning diagnosis

The first changes Abby saw in Quintin during the winter of 2016 were with his energy level.

“It was his first year of doing all-day kindergarten and he was really tired,” she said. “I remember Jake and I talking, saying, ‘This all day at school is really hard for him. He’s so tired.’ “

In early February she said she noticed a small group of bruises on his hip:

“He was a typical 6-year-old, so at first I just thought it was part of being a kid. Being a nurse, my mind started churning, but I went, ‘Oh that’s just crazy.’

“But especially as a mother — and I think a lot of moms are like this — I just couldn’t shake it. Your mind just goes to some awful places sometimes and you worry.”

After a couple of days, she picked Quintin up at school and told him they were going to stop by the doctor’s office for a quick checkup before doing “the fun things” they had planned later.

She said she just wanted to clear her mind that he was fine. But then she noticed more bruises on his leg.

When the doctor lifted his shirt and found broken blood vessels on his abdomen, Abby said she started to panic:

“She never said leukemia, but I looked at her and said, ‘I’m so worried!’ And she just looked at me and said, ‘Abby, you’re on the right track.’ ”

Quintin Richardson being treated for leukemia at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Quintin Richardson being treated for leukemia at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

After some quick lab work the family was given the devastating news.

“It was Philadelphia Chromosome Positive ALL, an aggressive type of leukemia characterized by too many lymphoblasts or lymphocytes in the bone marrow and peripheral blood. Unchecked it can spread quickly to the lymph nodes, various organs and the central nervous system.

“In just a couple of hours our whole life changed,” Abby said.

And yet because of tremendous medical strides in certain areas of cancer — and because his leukemia had been caught early — Quintin had some good prospects.

“The doctor told us if this was 10 years ago and he was diagnosed with this, we would be having an entirely different conversation,” Abby said.

Quintin was taken straight to Cincinnati Children’s where he was hospitalized for 30 days, had five weeks of out-patient treatment and then was hospitalized again for another 60 days. During that time he had one week or so where he was violently sick.

“When Quintin was in the hospital, he was never alone,” Abby said. “One of us was there every single second.”

Jake nodded: “Those first 30 days, Abby only left the hospital three times. And she was there every night but one. She was right there with Quintin.”

Providing perspective

Abby and Jake were athletes at Oxford Talawanda and high school sweethearts.

She played basketball and soccer and he was a football player.

She went to Ohio State to study veterinary science, then transferred back to Miami to get a degree in nursing.

Jake was first spotted by then-RedHawks coach Terry Hoeppner, who convinced him to join the program as a walk-on, which he did.

And, by the way, that means he never got the fanfare his son did when he signed that ballyhooed letter of intent.

Hoeppner soon left for Indiana, Jake redshirted and then was offered a scholarship by Miami coach Shane Montgomery.

The Richardson Family (left to right): Jase, Quintin, Jake, and Abby holding Grant. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
The Richardson Family (left to right): Jase, Quintin, Jake, and Abby holding Grant. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

He ended up lettering four straight seasons — 2005 through 2008 — and set numerous school records. He has highest punting average in a game, a season and for a career, ranks third all-time in punts and was the team MVP as a senior. That season he garnered first team All Mid-American Conference honors and had the fourth best punting average (45.4 yards) in the nation.

He attended the Chicago Bears rookie camp and worked out for the Indianapolis Colts but was not signed in 2009. A year later – not announcing that his hip needed surgery – he signed a free-agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, but eventually was cut.

Following a season as a special teams intern on the staff off then-Miami coach Don Treadwell, Jake left to take care of his family with a more lucrative job. He’s now the sports supervisor for parks and recreation in Oxford.

In 2014, Martin took over a Miami team that had gone 0-12 the season prior. He began the rebuilding process that culminated in a berth in the St. Petersburg Bowl last season.

Just as impressive has been the way he’s gotten his players to make a mark off the field.

“Most people don’t do things they want to do in their heads and their hearts because we all ask ourselves ‘Why should I do that?’ ” said Martin. “We’re all busy. We’ve all got kids and jobs and hectic lives and we can’t find a reason why we should do something else.

“But my parents would always tell me, ‘Why wouldn’t you do it? Why wouldn’t you get involved and make a difference?’ And I’ve found that’s the most fun part of life. Trying to do things for other people that can make a difference not just for them, but for you, too.

“It provides perspective, not just for the 18-to-23-year-old kids on our team, but for me and my coaches, too.

“Every time you win or lose a game it’s like the world is coming to an end, and that feeling is awesome. That’s why college football is what it is and I don’t want to change that.

“But when you get away from the game and spend time with people dealing with other issues, you realize how good you have it and how you can make it better for someone else, too.”

And so every year during preseason camp, Martin calls off practice for a day and he and his team do a community service project. And every October they now go to downtown Cincinnati to support Liam by walking two miles in the annual Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light Up the Night Walk.

And when it comes to Quintin, they’re there almost every day.

“This deal is not short,” Abby said. “It goes on and on and they have been there every step of the way, always behind our family and behind Quintin. It‘s just amazing.”

‘Really loves sports’

After his most intense chemo sessions last year, Quintin (who now has a full head of hair) returned to school wearing a cap over his bald pate.

“As a mom I was always worried if the other kids would say something, but they never did,” Abby said. “Then the teacher told me about the day they were working on an assignment where they had to compliment each other and make a statement about it.

“One student stood up and said, ‘I have something to say about Quintin – how he’s different and special.’ The teacher got really nervous, but the child goes:

“ ‘He really loves sports.’ “

No statement could be truer.

Quintin dressed for Halloween in 2016 as a Miami football player. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Quintin dressed for Halloween in 2016 as a Miami football player. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

He plays them all and, as Martin put it, “he’s a great little athlete.”

He roots for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Blue Jays and especially the Seattle Seahawks who, thanks to a trip provided by the Special Wish Foundation, gave Quintin the time of his life in August.

They brought him to their practice where he met several players and then he was a guest at the exhibition game with the Minnesota Vikings.

Back home, people from the Oxford area, as well as total strangers, have reached out to him and his family.

“There have been various fundraisers — a spaghetti dinner, a golf outing, an Uptown event by Miami football alumni, a GoFundMe page — and there is a Facebook account that provides Team Quintin updates and has over 1,000 followers.

And through it all Miami University has been there.

RedHawks hockey coach Enrico Blasi has reached out to him and the football team has an open door policy with him.

“He’s welcome any time to anything we’re doing,” Martin said.

As she was talking about the various kindnesses shown her family and especially her son, Abby’s voice caught on some welling emotion.

She composed herself and said softly:

“When you have a child with cancer, you get a crash course in the goodness in humanity.”

Or, as Quintin now puts it:

“On the brighter side of things.”