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For Notre Dame captain Steve Noble, the impulse to help other people is something he learned from his own family.

“My uncle has Down’s syndrome, so my grandma — his mother — actually helped co-found a school to teach mentally challenged people. It’s been in the family, and I’ve been exposed to people who are a little different from me.”

The school is called the Flower of Hope, and it serves the needs of mentally challenged students from kindergarten through eighth grade on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. Noble’s grandmother, the late Renie Noble, co-founded the school because there was nothing locally to accommodate her son, Keith.

“She taught there for a number of years. Once my uncle was old enough to leave the school, they developed something called the Hope Farm. It’s basically a place for young adults to learn. They actually design and sell to the public picnic tables, baskets and other things.”

Renie Noble left a lasting impression on her grandson. “Being a varsity hockey player and a student doesn’t leave a lot of time to do work like that, but I certainly enjoy working with mentally and physically challenged people whenever I can.”

The senior forward from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., has a long history of helping other people, which has recently won him notice as a Rhodes Scholar finalist, and a finalist for college hockey’s Humanitarian Award. His teammates recognized Noble’s leadership by making him the first three-year captain in the history of Notre Dame hockey.

In 1996-97, Noble won the CCHA Terry Flanagan Award, which recognizes a league letterwinner how has overcome personal adversity to achieve success on and off the ice; Noble recovered from a broken back his final year playing junior hockey.

Noble was just named to the 1997-98 CCHA All-Academic team, an honor he earned last year as well. He was second-team Academic All-American for the 1996-97 season, and his GPA of 3.95 ranks second in Notre Dame’s college of business.

Receiving recognition for academic work is always nice, says Noble, but the nomination for the Humanitarian Award is something that he’s especially pleased with.

“It’s a great honor, similar in some respects to the Terry Flanagan award. This is obviously a national award, so it’s a little bit more prestigious, but both of the awards really encompass a lot of different things, which is what I like about them.

“They’ve got to do with a hockey player being more than just an athlete who plays on Friday and Saturday nights. I think it’s great that they try to acknowledge people on their teams and in their communities. I think it’s really special that there are awards for people who bring things to the game other than greatest players.”

Noble says that too often the kind of media attention that student-athletes receive doesn’t accurately reflect the character of collegiate athletes on the whole.

“A lot of times, headlines just capture the negative side of things — NCAA violations, disciplinary problems, and those kinds of things. It’s great that some of the positive things get attention with an award like this. I think the positive is what college sports in general promote, and it’s nice to see it brought to the forefront.

“Looking at the players on other teams, you really don’t have any idea what they do off the ice. You know what kind of player someone is, what kind of stats he has, how his team plays, but you have no idea what kind of person a Tyler Harlton [like Noble, a Humanitarian finalist] is in the community, in the classroom — what kind of leader he is.

“I’ve played against Tyler for four years, and I really didn’t know what kind of person he is. I think it’s great that this award brings his accomplishments to light.”

In addition to teaching him generosity and compassion, Noble’s family has also taught him how to balance his busy life while giving something back to the community that supports him. Steve’s father Terry — Renie’s son, Keith’s brother — worked to instill in the younger Noble a sense of discipline from an early age.

Terry was Steve’s coach in both organized and pick-up hockey. “It was a really good, kind of an interesting situation, because he coached me both on a team at the public arena, and also in our backyard rink. He’d come outside with me all the time and helped me with little things.

“He was always very encouraging, but he expected a lot, too. That was good, because he really instilled a good work ethic in me, which has carried me a long way.

“In school, it’s really helping with grades, making time to do things, discipline. It’s helped me to make the time to do the different things I like to do, whether they be helping out in the community, or study time, or social time, or doing extra things at the rink.”

Terry Noble is understandably proud of his son. “He was very fortunate to be able to come here. This has far exceeded the expectations that we had. He’s learned, and grown, the schooling is going very well. He’s outgoing, and things seem to be fitting together very well for him.”

Things went so well for Steve Noble that Notre Dame nominated him for a Rhodes Scholarship.

“I was fortunate enough to be endorsed by Notre Dame, and I went to the finals in Canada, in Toronto.” There the senior was interviewed by a panel of seven people, six of whom are former Rhodes Scholars.

“It was pretty neat. The former premier of Ontario was there, people from business, people from medicine. So, it was interesting that you were talking with a group with diverse backgrounds, from all professions.

“We talked about a lot of Canadian issues. One thing the panel looks for is breadth of knowledge. They want to see that you have depth of knowledge in your field of study, but they also want to see that you know about what’s going on in the world.

“I knew a lot of issues discussed would be Canadian issues, and there’s not a lot of press down here about what’s going on in Canada. I spent a lot of time on the Internet, reading different magazines and newspapers just to keep up with Canadian issues.”

There were 13 finalists interviewed in December of 1997. Two received the scholarships, but Noble did not.

“It was a little bit disappointing, but it was a great experience. Even without getting the scholarship, I’d do it again in a second. I got to meet some extraordinary people.”

Noble now faces the first round of the CCHA playoffs with a mixture of pride and nostalgia. “It’s funny how you look back on it now when the regular season is coming to a close, and you look at certain games and think if we could have changed a little bit here and there, what the difference would have been.

“We’ve got ourselves a position in the playoffs, and we’re going to give it our best shot. That’s the great thing about the league, too, is that it came down to the final weekend to see who plays who. It says a lot about the level of competition.”

After graduation, Noble — who was drafted out of high school by the St. Louis Blues — is not sure what he wants to do with his degree in finance, but he does plan on eventually going back to school for an MBA.

After hockey, that is. “I’m going to wait a little after the season’s over, to size up what’s in store for me next year, and take it from there.”