Empire retires Noah Nieto’s basketball jersey

Empire staff presented Noah with his framed jersey (Family Photo)

Noah Nieto averaged six points a game as junior for Empire and that number was sure to rise with the graduation of three seniors, but chronic pain in his left leg led to trips to the doctor and a biopsy revealed every parent’s nightmare.

Chondroblastic osteosarcoma is a rare form of bone and tissue cancer and the lengthy chemo treatments Noah needed meant basketball was put on hold, and throwing the shot, discus and javelin was out of the question, but Noah is much more than an athlete. Much more.

By all accounts, Noah is the son and friend everyone dreams about. Boys are often defined by the games they play and men are sometimes defined by the work they do but Noah is defined by the love people have for him and that’s every parent’s dream.

“Noah is a class act human!! When you envision a perfect student/person Noah would be just that,” explained family friend and Empire athletics secretary Terri Smith. “He has compassion, enthusiasm, is so caring and polite and he was always there to lift up his teammates when they were down and encouraged them all from sidelines this past season.”

It also comes as no surprise that Noah is the glue that keeps his family together; uplifting and positive. As a parent myself, I know I would be in shambles.

Empire senior night (Family Photo)

High schools rarely retire jerseys for a variety of reasons but Empire did the logical thing when the program presented him with his framed jersey a few days ago.

“Retiring Noah’s basketball jersey is a no-brainer,” said Empire athletic director Shannon Woolridge. “Not only are we honoring Noah the player, but more importantly, we are honoring Noah the person. He represents everything that is right about Empire and our athletic department. Noah’s exceptional character is a promising example for our current and future students.”

Noah’s family announced continued growth in early March and hospice care earlier this month but, still, his “Make-A-Wish” desire was to help future Empire Ravens with a new and improved discus throwing cage on campus.

I will need some of Noah’s strength because, I too, am headed in for a tissue biopsy next month. Doctors tell us not to be scared because the unknown is unknown but telling my own mom not to worry was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do but I tried to channel Noah’s spirit.

There are a lot of people in need in these strange times and I have found thinking of others is a form of a cure. It may not heal the body but it can certainly mend the soul. Spend a few minutes and send your positive thoughts Noah’s way because he has been sending his.



Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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