For years, Devon Berry begged his mother to allow him to play football.
Like many mothers, she worried about his safety and always said no. Like many sons, he kept trying. But there is one big difference: Berry, born with cerebral palsy, cannot stand without the aid of a walker.
“You have always told me never to act like a cripple,” he recalled telling her one day during yet another football discussion, “but that’s how you’re treating me.”
He eventually won the argument and landed a spot on his high school football team in Georgia, crawling on his knees from the sidelines to the field to play.
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On Saturday morning he spoke to area youths, many of them athletes, at Tarrant County College’s Trinity River Campus as part of the Kemp Leadership Academy’s speaker series.
“I do not have a disability,” Berry said. “I have the ability God gave me.”
Larry Kemp, who founded the academy hoping to use it to inspire young people, saw Berry’s story featured on ESPN and reached out to the teenager.
“I thought maybe he could spur, encourage or motivate just one kid,” Kemp said. “He is an inspiration.”
Berry has accepted a scholarship to wrestle at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, the 2015 NCAA Division II team wrestling champion. To get in shape, he sometimes does push-ups or sit-ups in the middle of the night. But he said the sport is about more than physical prowess.
“Wrestling is 98 percent mental, 2 percent physical,” he said. “Wrestling is a fight. It is about the will to win. When you’re tired, what are you going to do to beat the person in front of you?”
Repeatedly, Berry said he has worked to overcome obstacles. At school, he was initially placed in special education before working his way into regular classes. He has undergone 10 surgeries to his legs, and doctors have discussed amputation.
Coaches have not always wanted him to play.
“If you have a desire to do something; you have to be willing to sacrifice, willing to work, willing to stand alone,” he said.
His faith has driven and inspired him, he said, and keeps him from feeling sorry for himself.
Berry wants to one day work as a sports broadcaster and motivational speaker.
“You guys are going to see me on ESPN,” he said.