Throughout his coaching career, Eric Wolford has had many recruits.
He’s made numerous trips all over the country in helping build a strong program, whether it’s at Youngstown State University or another school he coached in the past. But nothing compares to the recruit he met while at the University at North Texas in 2003.
It was Melinda Wolford.
“She’s definitely been the best recruit I’ve ever had in my career,” he said.
Melinda Wolford knew from the first time they met that there was something there, stating his personality jumped out.
“He’s one of those people that his body follows his spirit — like for as big as he is, when he’s in the room, his personality and his charisma are bigger than him,” she said. “I knew that just the first time I met him. I enjoy the humor, and I enjoy the lightness of him.”
One year later, the two were married in Hubbard. It was during this time that Eric Wolford was an assistant at the University of Arizona. He left Texas in December 2003 to take the job. Melinda Wolford, a professor at Texas Woman’s University, joined him in July 2004.
“She wasn’t going to leave Fort Worth unless we got married, so we got married,” Eric Wolford said. “It was the best day of my life.”
The next step was starting a family. On Nov. 26, 2005, son Stone Wolford was born.
Little did Eric and Melinda Wolford know that the next two years would be the most difficult. They knew something was wrong with their son, and after two years and four months, they found out what that was.
Melinda Wolford, eight months pregnant with daughter Marlee, pulled up to her job one morning in Illinois. At the time, Eric Wolford was an assistant at the University of Illinois.
The geneticist they had been seeing for Stone Wolfrod was ill, so her counselor called Melinda Wolford. The counselor tried to convince Melinda Wolford to hear the diagnosis in person rather than on the phone. She refused numerous times, and the counselor finally told her over the phone.
Stone Wolforld was diagnosed with Cardiofaciocutaneous Syndrome (CFC Syndrome), a rare genetic syndrome that typically affects the heart and skin.
According to CFC International, an estimated 200 to 300 people suffer from the disorder worldwide, and children live an average between four and 14 years. There is no cure.
“It was one of the most difficult moments of my life to get that confirmation, and at the same time it opened so many doors for where we would go,” Melinda Wolford said.
Numerous questions popped in Eric and Melinda Wolford’s minds. What are they going to do about it? How do they prepare to lose a child if that’s a possibility?
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about that, and we kind of grieved, because it wasn’t what we expected it to be,” she said. “It wasn’t going to be a little guy playing football, which is what you dream of. We decided at one point that he had brought us so much, and he had given us so much knowledge and experience that we could help other people that were in situations like that.”
Eric and Melinda Wolford founded the No Stone Unturned Foundation in October 2008 to help families with children that have special needs.
“There’s some research that tells us that couples with children of special needs have an 80 percent divorce rate,” Melinda Wolford said. “That was a tough time for us during those first two years of his life.”
But it was those first two years that helped Eric and Melinda Wolford’s marriage to where it is. They persevered through thick and thin.
Melinda Wolford is an assistant professor in the YSU Department of Counseling, Special Education and School Psychology while Eric Wolford is in his fourth season as head coach of the Penguins.
The Wolfords are raising two kids while helping others around the country do the same. They couldn’t be happier in Youngstown.
“We knew we were chosen to be his parents, and we knew that we needed to make the best of it,” Melinda Wolford said. “I think Stone is one of those things in our marriage that has made it work like it does work. He brings a whole different layer to our relationship.”