MOREHEAD — The most heartfelt play-by-play call in Kentucky football this fall will not come from Tom Leach on UK games, nor from Paul Rogers on Louisville contests, nor from any of the small army of radio broadcasters who fill the airwaves on Friday nights with descriptions of local high schools' exploits.
Instead, it will come from a 42-year-old Rowan County mom who admits, "I don't know that much about football."
On some Friday nights, that does not stop Melissa "Missy" Kidd from taking up a position behind the home team bench near midfield at Rowan County's Coach Paul Ousley Stadium. She is there to deliver a real-time description of that night's high school game to an audience of one.
"No, no, no, no, Mark, the Panthers just scored another touchdown. Oh, no!"
Almost since Mark Kidd was old enough to speak, he has had a passion for football. His parents are convinced that the little boy whose first spoken word was "ball" and who was so fearless that, as a 3-year-old, he climbed a ladder and got on the roof of his family's house would have been a holy terror on Friday nights.
"Mark would have been an animal in high school football," says his father, Ashley Kidd.
If only he had gotten that chance.
Two cruel physical afflictions — one that deprives him of the energy his muscles need to function, the other that has left him almost blind — have combined to leave Mark Kidd, a 17-year-old Rowan County High School student, confined to a wheelchair and able to see only shapes.
Yet through it all, Mark's passion for football burns so brightly that Morehead State University Coach Matt Ballard heard his story and pulled every string he could think of in a successful effort to give the teen a chance to meet his idol, Peyton Manning.
A mother's love takes many forms.
For the son whose body's decline made playing football impossible, Missy Kidd takes Mark to Rowan County Vikings games and supplies a play-by-play account to give him a way to hold onto the game.
'He walked funny'
The normal progression from childhood into the teen years involves one's body becoming stronger and one's motor skills always progressing.
For Mark Kidd, that process has worked in reverse.
As a child, he could see and walk. Yet around the time Mark was 6, his parents noticed that when the family (Mark has an older brother, Matthew) would return home from a night outing, Mark had a difficult time navigating from the car into the house in the darkness.
"He would run over stuff and fall," Missy Kidd says.
As Mark got older, his parents noticed that his walk and his run were unnaturally stiff-legged. "He just walked funny," Ashley Kidd says. "It was like he couldn't bend his legs the way most people do."
In elementary school, Mark kept getting in trouble because he was leaning against walls when his teachers expected the students to be standing in line.
The family feared — knew, really — that something was wrong. Yet in spite of many trips to the doctor, the Kidds never could get a firm diagnosis of what was wrong with Mark.
Then, when he was 12, doctors at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital told the family that Mark's stiff-legged gait and the fact that his other motor skills seemed to be regressing were caused by mitochondrial myopathy.
It is a neuromuscular disorder caused by damage to the small, energy producing structures in the cells of the muscles. It is a degenerative condition. If it afflicts the body's most important muscle, the heart, it is fatal.
Meanwhile, the trouble Mark had seeing at night was being caused by retinitis pigmentosa. That condition causes damage to the retina, the part of the eye that converts light images to nerve signals and sends them to the brain. The eye ailment also gets worse with time.
"Most children who have what Mark has, they don't make it past 20 years old," Missy Kidd says.
Meeting Peyton Manning
Even as his body has declined, Mark Kidd has remained, in many ways, a typical teenager.
Asked his favorite subject in school, he does not hesitate. "The girls," he says.
Though as his conditions worsen Mark is not quite as outgoing at school as in the past, he is known at Rowan County High School for having an engaging way.
"Mark is a charmer," says Andrea Dehart, his teacher at Rowan County.
The people in the Rowan County school system decided that, while they could, they were going to make a dream come true for Mark by finding some way for him to meet Peyton Manning.
After a couple of frustrating years without success, Rowan County schools public information officer Catherine Rogers contacted Morehead State University football coach Matt Ballard last fall to see if he could help.
Ballard called the Indianapolis Colts, then Manning's employer, and told a team official Mark's story. In a classy gesture, the Colts agreed to provide Mark and his family with free tickets and field passes for a game, plus credits for food and the team store, Ballard said.
However, even though Manning was out for the 2011 season with a neck injury, the Colts said game-day responsibilities would keep the quarterback from meeting Mark.
"By that point," Ballard said, "I wasn't taking that for an answer."
Through mutual connections, Ballard got word to former Boyle County and Kentucky standout Jacob Tamme, then a Colts tight end, and asked if Tamme could reach out to Manning and ask him to meet Mark.
So last Nov. 7, Mark and his family were on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium before the Colts were to face the Atlanta Falcons. Tamme, who was warming up, came off the field to say hello to Mark.
Another tall man also walked over, bent down and introduced himself.
Not surprisingly, Mark was initially speechless when Peyton Manning started talking to him.
Says Mark Kidd now: "I was a little bit shocked. Peyton Manning knew who I was."
He soon found his voice. Mark told the injured quarterback "'You need to get better. You need to get back on the field.'"
With a chagrined smile, Manning replied, "'I'm trying to, buddy.'"
Mom on the game call
After Mark's medical diagnosis at age 12, Missy Kidd, a stay-at-home mom, says she made herself a promise.
"I was going to try to find ways to spend all the time I could with Mark so that, whatever happens, I would not have regrets," she says.
Growing up, football was not Missy's thing. "She was a little bit of a tomboy," says Tommy Barker, her father, "but she was not an athlete, not athletic."
Ashley Kidd, an electrician, is not particularly into stick-and-ball sports. "I'm more of a hunting and fishing guy," he says.
Before Mark's muscular condition worsened to the point that he needed a wheelchair, Missy would go out in the yard and throw the football with her son.
When Mark is able now, Missy takes him to the Rowan County football games. She stands beside his wheelchair to provide running game commentary.
She gives him updates on his favorite Rowan County player, Keontae Moore. She tries to keep him current on the score and who has the ball.
On a recent Friday night, while Rowan County was winning a wild 55-49 shootout over rival Fleming County, Missy would bend down and speak to Mark.
When the news was good for Rowan County, he would raise his right arm over his head and shake it in triumph. When the news was bad, he would drop his head.
"There's nothing like the love of a mother," says Morehead State's Ballard. "For his mother to call play-by-play for him, wow. Wow."
Not long ago, Mark asked his mom how come she likes football so much.
Looking at her son in his wheelchair, Missy Kidd said, "Because you do."