HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — An officiating crew is an important aspect of most team sports. The officials work as a team and often love the game just as much as the players on the field.
And sometimes, the game will love them back just as much.
Brian Kennon is one such official.
Kennon played lacrosse in college and beyond.
He has been a Richmond-area lacrosse official for more than 20 covering nearly 50 high school and college games a year.
"He's one of those officials we wish we could clone," Glen Allen High School Director of Student Activities Michael Jiancristoforo said.
Kennon said he sees the game differently now with a whistle than he did with a stick.
"You definitely see it through a different set of eyes. Sometimes fans and coaches don't understand that the three of us are all looking at different things," Kennon said. "I do it for a whole bunch of different reasons. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and monetarily. It is a job, but the fact that I love it so much takes the j-o-b part out of it."
Kennon has got more than that out of his association with lacrosse. He met his wife Michelle in college at Randolph-Macon. She became intimately involved with lacrosse throughout the area whether it was watching their daughter play in high school or working as an assigner for officials in the region.
"She enjoyed watching her play, watching me officiate. She really enjoyed the sport," Kennon said.
Michelle Kennon was revered as much as her husband. That love made her sudden loss hit the entire lacrosse community hard.
Michelle Kennon began to feel sick last summer.
What was originally thought to be a simple infection was soon diagnosed as pancreatic cancer.
"We thought we caught it small enough, early enough," Brian Kennon said. "Things were looking in a positive direction with the chemo treatments."
But the cancer soon moved into Michelle's liver. She underwent three changes to her treatment and chemotherapy.
"Looking at her, you could not tell she had stage 4 pancreatic cancer," Brian Kennon said. "She was never sick, never lost weight. Wasn't frail, wasn't weak. She exuded grace and dignity on the outside. Unfortunately, that disease was just eating her up on the inside."
Michelle Kennon passed away on May 6.
Two days later, Brian Kennon stepped onto the field at Glen Allen to officiate a game.
"They call this the medicine game for a reason," he said. "I had to take the healing that the game gives me. I needed a place to go. Everybody kind of told me to look out after myself. That's what I did. That's what makes me happy."
"For him to go through what he had to with his family and to show up here," Jiancristoforo said. "I can't imagine that happening if it happened to me but he wanted to come here."
Brian Kennon has not stopped.
One day after his wife's memorial service, he was back on the lacrosse field.
He said he has found peace while officiating. The game tells him that it's exactly where he needs to be.
"I always treasured the two hours I had on that field because that's a game," he said. "When I stepped out and got outside the stadium, it stopped being a game. That's real life and real life isn't fun all the time."
Kennon said he hears Michelle's voice in his head. She tells him to keep going.
"She knew that I loved the sport. She was also so intertwined with it, she's OK with it," he said.
Jiancristoforo said Kennon is showing the young athletes how to be a class act during tough, dark times.
"[To] keep doing what you're doing to move through it. There's different people in the world like that. It goes to speak to his character," Jiancristoforo said
Kennon said he hoped to continue officiating 10 months out of the year as long as he is able to do so
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