I’m writing this as I fly home from Darrell’s funeral, and it still doesn’t seem real. I met Darrell when I was 17 years old. I was a bratty teenager going through a lot at home, getting my first taste of independence and still trying to figure out my path. I did not understand gracious professionalism. I had been working nights at a grocery store and the graveyard shift on Fridays and Saturdays at the local newspaper, where I lied about my age to be able to do so. Higher education was suggested as the next step for me, but I didn’t know what to do or where to start. I wasn’t good at anything in particular. I only joined the team after losing a bet.
The mentors didn’t know what to make of me and they’ve admitted as much. But the entire Bot Boosters group, including Cis and Darrell, included me and began to take me under their wing. They learned about my family and my home life. They gave me tasks and let me feel like I could contribute, despite joining the season late and having to work many evenings. But most of all, there was a lot of tough love given when I needed it. When I acted out, I got called out on it. I learned from Darrell and my other mentors that tough love is given when someone sees potential in you and knows that you aren’t living up to it. The Bot Boosters called me out on it, the first real accountability from adults I actually cared about in my life outside of my parents. They encouraged me to go to college. They introduced me to other people in their lives - their kids, their siblings, their parents, people throughout Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan FIRST who became my closest friends. They encouraged me in so many ways that became life-changing.
Their commitment to the program was immense. Every scrap of vacation time, every extra bit of spending money, every evening and weekend went to the robotics team. Hundreds of kids passed under their tutelage, all receiving the same level of attention and care. We were watched over and arranged for, regardless of the circumstances. Not enough money for competition travel? Come work for an afternoon or two and we’ll cover you. Plenty of fundraisers the Bot Boosters ran in their spare time helped to fill the gaps. Rides, supervision, meals - you name it. For the kids that needed it most, these incredible people filled in for parents that weren’t around or weren’t able to be what their kid needed. They did all of this for decades. I realized, as many did in the years after, that they gave an incredible commitment to these kids yet never once asked for anything in return.
In the face of Darrell’s passing, I’ve gone through so many emotions. I’m still processing those, but the overwhelming one is deep, painful grief. For the Noble family to lose him, for Team Hammond to have lost such a major part of their program, selfishly, for me to have lost a friend and mentor I’ve known over half my life. For reference, Hammond households earn 33% less than the average US household median income, and the city has a 22% poverty rate. Darrell was one of an incredible group of people that gave us something money can never buy: pride in ourselves, in our schools, in our hometown, in our achievements. I wish every student in FIRST could have what we had, though I know it’s just not possible. Every team deserves their own Darrell Noble, but there was truly only one like him.