Bravery, service go beyond Nat the Knight’s armor
TORONTO — As the armor-wearing and sword-wielding mascot of the Toronto High School football team, Nathan Jones is a familiar sight to the many attending the Red Knights’ games.
But Nat the Knight, as he is known by many, also embodies the virtues of the knights of old, including bravery and service to others, when he is off the field.
The son of Terry and Rebecca Jones, Nathan was approached 17 years ago to take on the role by former mascot Larry Hunt, and he eagerly accepted the task.
“I was honored,” said Nathan, a 1998 Toronto graduate who began rooting for the team as a child.
He added playing the knight has personal meaning for him because Ephesians 6:13-18 exhorts Christians to take up the armor of God.
Rebecca said this season has been a tough one for Nathan. He’s been forced to sit it out because of health conditions that put him at risk of suffering severely should he contract COVID-19.
Noting he also wears a mask when in public, Nathan said he will do whatever it takes to keep himself and others safe “like a true knight.”
To those discouraged by the pandemic, he says, “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and we’ll see that day come. We will be reunited.”
Nathan said he can be patient “because I’m Red Knight strong.”
Rebecca said Nathan, who was born with Down syndrome, lives with cardiac conditions and brittle diabetes, which causes wide swings in blood sugar levels.
“When Nathan underwent open heart surgery when he was 3, doctors told us he had less than a 50 percent chance of making it,” she said.
“But even with his health issues, he doesn’t let things bother him,” Rebecca said, adding, “We’ve had some scary situations, and he’s told us, ‘I’m going to be all right.'”
And until this year, Nathan has kept busy with other activities, including a summer job at the city swimming pool and activities as a Boy Scout, including earning an Eagle Scout badge.
He landed the summer job with the help of the Jefferson County Community Action Council when he was a high school junior, and he’s still at it 21 years later.
In addition to helping to keep the pool grounds clean, Nathan sweeps the sidewalks and streets outside.
“He doesn’t quit. If his cell phone goes off, he waits ’till he’s done working,” said Terry.
Of his job at the pool, Nathan said, “It means the world to me.”
Nathan also spoke of many fun experiences while in scouting, including summer camps where he sang and roasted hot dogs and s’mores around the campfire.
At the suggestion of Scout leaders Gary Hawkins and Bill Warner, he took on pavement of the parking lot of the former North River Avenue Church of Christ, where the scouts met, to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
“He worked hard making the arrangements and calls,” said Rebecca.
She said Nathan also is active at his own church, Toronto First Presbyterian Church, where he has loaded the dishwasher for funeral dinners, cleaned the sanctuary and served on the board of deacons.
Fellow church members Connie Crawford and Karen Lundquist, who nominated Nathan for the Community Star award, noted his willingness to help others in any situation.
And the Red Knight’s suit of armor isn’t the only costume he’s worn. Nathan also appeared as a chimney sweep and joined the stage crew in changing scenes for the Toronto Chamber of Commerce’s production of “A Christmas Carol” several years ago as well as appearing as a newsboy in a Ghost Walk held by the Toronto Historical Society.
“I said, “Come get your news!'” Nathan recalled, adding he enjoys learning about local history.
He’s also an avid sports fan, counting most Pittsburgh sports teams and the Ohio State University football team among his favorites. And he enjoys spending time with his 18-month-old nephew, whom he calls “the apple of my eye.”
Asked how he felt to be named a Community Star, Nathan said, “I was like, aw man — it was unbelievable.”
But he said he’s lucky to have been born in the family and city he has.
“If it wasn’t for my family and my community, I wouldn’t be who I am. And I’m tough,” Nathan said.
Among many with family and friends who have battled cancer, Nathan led the Jefferson County Relay for Life last year and has chosen the American Cancer Society as the charity to receive a donation in his name.