Jessica Taylor, God’s Little Warrior

Jessica shows off the coffee mug of her favorite college while sporting her Green Bay Packer sunglasses.

Jessica Taylor shows off the coffee mug of her favorite college while sporting her Green Bay Packer sunglasses.

Our story today is an amazing story of laughter, joy, trial, courage, and submission to perfect will. This is a cancer story in the blessed lives of Jessica Erin Taylor’s family, and how nothing is left to chance when it comes to this incredible little girl. 
 
You may have heard of Jessica through the Facebook site, Prayers for Jessica, God’s Little Warrior. First, you really have to meet Jess. She is an outgoing 11 year old little girl, a wonderful daughter, big sister, natural leader, volunteer with the Special Blessings Ministry at The Woodlands United Methodist Church, an honor roll student, a talented musician who plays both the cello and viola, a champion martial artist, gifted volleyball player, gymnast, and surfer.  She is truly a source of great joy in the lives of all that she touches. Jess is blessed with a kind heart, an adventurous spirit and the gift of self-assured faith.  
 
Some months ago, mid-May 2015 after a volleyball practice Jess complained of shin pain to her parents. As she is the sporting type, her parents chalked it up to shin splints and the pain subsided for a week or so. Then, one Sunday night she began to have pain in her shin again, but this time it was more severe and there was swelling. The next morning arrangements were made to see her pediatrician, and upon examination she recommended that they head to the ER at Texas Children’s Hospital. Her concern was infection or a deep vein thrombosis.  
 
So, Jess spent her last week of the 5th grade in TCH where they performed ultra sounds and MRIs, and eventually found what appeared to be a small abscess on her shin. The diagnosis was Osteomyelitis (bone infection). The same week she had surgery to aspirate the abscess, and she was enrolled in a clinical trial study under Dr. Kaplan. Her condition improved, but the lab was never able to grow any bacteria from the sample taken during surgery, and as the family has learned, a sample was never sent for pathology.  After two weeks, Jess and the family were sent home with antibiotics and crutches, and told to follow up. 

Despite struggling through the nausea caused by the antibiotics, Jess was once again on the road. She and her friends had sleepovers, pool parties, and led the block in a fireworks extravaganza on the 4th of July to include roman candle theater.  However, that following Monday she complained about a little shin pain, but it subsided. They had a follow up visit scheduled with the orthopedic surgeon later in the week, and the issue was discussed with him. He did some new imaging and commented on how good the bone and the incision were healing. So good in fact that he released Jess from restrictions. The family was all so relieved to be free from the sight of bandages and crutches, and carried on with their summer plans. While she did occasionally mention that her leg hurt, the family held onto the surgeon’s words, “The muscles and ligaments around the surgery site might be a little stiff from non-use while on crutches, but that will go away.” 

Then one Sunday in late August, during Confirmation class she indicated the pain was back. It was the day that she was being presented with her Bible, and as she stepped up on the stage you could see the grimace on her little face. That night, Jess was in the same agony she felt back in May and this time she had a fever. Monday followed which was the first day of school. The family had decided the night before that she would stay home, but that morning her father, Chris heard noise coming from her room. She was still trying to get her clothes together for the first day of school but there would be no school for Jess, just another admission to TCH and more imaging which showed that the abscess had progressed, followed by a more intense surgery on August 26th

The night before surgery some dear friends of the Taylor’s, Kent and Cathy Gilmore, came to visit. They brought their Bishop and a small gift for Jess on loan. The Bishop asked if he could perform an anointing, and as they all gathered around Jess’s little bed he asked Kent for the oil. Kent dug deep in his pocket only to reveal a tiny vial of oil, and began to explain how it had traveled to be there that night. He told the story of how his brother had gone to Israel some years ago, and had visited the Garden of Gethsemane. For those not familiar, the Garden in Gethsemane is where the Apostles gathered the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. It is the place where Jesus surrendered to God’s perfect will asking- “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours, be done.” Luke 22:42.

Kent held the vial up to the light to reveal the contents, and as he carefully plucked the cap off he went on to tell how the drops of oil within had been collected and blessed in the Garden on the very spot where Judas kissed Jesus’ cheek as he handed him over to the Romans. As he placed the oil upon Jess’s head they all closed their eyes and held hands, and Kent prayed…

“Father, we come to you in this hour of great need. We ask that you reveal that which is hidden, we ask for restoration, courage, and submission to Your perfect will…”  

Even though the lights in the room were dimmed, as the Bishop uttered those words, Chris (Jess’s dad) felt a bright light come over them. “I could see it through my closed eyelids, and I recall having an instant uneasy calm that is too difficult to describe but I can tell you that in my life, up to that singular moment, I had never felt as connected to God.”

The next day, on August 26th, surgery ran about an hour longer than expected, but Jess did fine, and the family celebrated Jess’s 11th birthday that night. Several days later, pain free, and ready to run, figuratively, she was released from the hospital with a PICC (Peripherally inserted center catheter) line and some heavy duty antibiotics. Before departing, the family went outside and released all of her balloons with a prayer, and as they drove north, Dad looked at her and with the soft reds and purples of the sunset crossing with the clouds as she looked quietly out the window, they exchanged some words and Dad thought about what a simple joy it was to have all of his family under one roof.
 
“For one night, the challenges that lay ahead would wait. “God has heard us” I thought to myself, and given us a moment to catch our breath. That night the house was filled with laughter, and we enjoyed the peace of a quiet family evening.”

 

With what was about to happen to this family, you just know the night before was orchestrated by divine intervention. The next day the family got up, ate, Kelley went to work, and Chris worked from home. Kelley called Chris crying at about 11am, and asked if he could come meet her away from the house. His initial thought was that someone in her family had passed. So he told Jess to sit tight, and drove to the park. There at the park in the car through tears she told Chris that TCH had called, and that the surgeon had sent a tissue sample to pathology. They had confirmed that she has bone cancer and more specifically, Ewing’s Sarcoma.

 

The weight of Kelly’s words were hard to comprehend for Chris, and the emotions of anger, despair, fear…everything that a parent fears filled the air as they both looked out the window at the rain. Their racing thoughts were only interrupted by the “thump thump” of the windshield wipers as they streaked across only to be cut by the familiar ping of the iPhone.

 

Chris looked at the phone and thought, “It’s Jess, pull it together”…and he answered, “Hey Baby what’s up?”  Jess indicated the home health nurse was at the house. Chris told her to go ahead and let her in as he’d be back real soon.

 

So, Mom and Dad collected themselves and drove home. At home,  they told Jess that the doctors said the antibiotics were not going to help her, and to stop taking them. Cancer was not mentioned.

The next several hours were a blur for Kelley and Chris as they took turns tending to the needs of Jess, her little sister Frances, and trying to reason with uncertainty.

 

Jessica Taylor 4The following day the family loaded up, and headed back down to TCH to meet with the oncologist. As they walked off of the elevator and saw the sign on the wall “Cancer Clinic”, their hearts sank. Chris was wondering to himself what Jess was thinking and if she knows or not.
 
In the exam room Chris and Kelley told Jess, talked about the disease, the plan, how to move forward, and how they were going to move fast. Kelley and Chris both work in healthcare as she is an EMT and Chris is a Clinical Director with 15 years of seniority so moving the ball down the field in a hurry is part of their day jobs.
 
However, Chris soon learned that no one can “make” anything happen.  The initial plan was for a battery of tests. They wanted a PET, CT, Ultrasound, EKG, ECG, and a pelvic biopsy over the next couple of weeks.  Chris thought, “Next couple of weeks? Why can’t we do it today?”

They were met with…the schedule is packed and the earliest times are next week for the PET, CT, and the following week for the US, EKG, ECG, and then three weeks out for the biopsy of which are already scheduled… Chris told them to check the schedule again and that they’d go anywhere day or night.

So, the nurse left the room and shortly returned and said, “I jumped back in and they have had a couple of cancellations. The CT, US, EKG, and ECG are scheduled right now. The PET and biopsy are scheduled for this Thursday and Friday.” Chris and Kelley were elated the schedule was moved up and both said God was telling them something. 

Over the coming days, they wrestled with mourning the past, and coming to grips with the reality of the now and just set about the duty of the task. For Kelley and Chris, it was all they could do to put on a smile, and hold back the tears of fear. Then one night which was the Friday after the biopsy, the girls were busy making cookies, and Chris was looking for a reason to get out of the house and went to the store. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he felt God calling him to come to His house. 

 

So, at 10pm he pulled into a little church up the road, and even though the lights were off, parked and went up and tried the door. Much to his surprise it was open! He went inside, poured his soul at the altar, and began pleading with God (essentially telling Him that He must have made some grand mistake). In the midst of the hysterical tears of a father trying to somehow negotiate for his child’s life, he felt someone kneel down beside him. It was the pastor, and as Chris proceeded to tell him his story, the pastor prayed with Chris.
 
“The Pastor told me to go home and talk with my child. He said that it was ok to cry with her, to hold her, to be honest and share my feelings, and to pray with her about God’s design.”
On the way home, Chris thought about how calling God close by submitting… is liberating.

Chris walked back through door of the house, and asked Kelley if she thought they should talk to Jess about what exactly was going on. Kelley told Chris that Jess brought it up already and they’ve been talking about it. Jess had brought it up.
Nearby, Jess said, ““Whatever happens, I’m going to be ok Daddy.”God didn’t give me this thing, but I know that he has a plan for me.” 
 
That night, the family shared their pain, fear, joy, anger, and delight.
 
Chris was humbled and told me about the experience…
 
“Guess what, 6’2 215lbs former boxer Daddy is a bigger crier than Jess the 11 year old little girl in the kitchen making cookies leaning on one crutch.”

He continued…”I don’t use the word “miracle” lightly, but God clearly spoke to us by opening that schedule, by opening the doors of that church, by putting in Jess the composure and stubborn faith that only comes directly from the Holy Spirit. He was taking us beyond our intellect, and our abilities to comprehend, to negotiate, or to plan. He was taking us past the point of breaking from exhaustion, and by doing that He was asking us to stop showing up with worry in our hearts, and to start being mentally and emotionally present.”

Chris shared that we can’t negotiate. We can’t take a magic pill. We can’t force a result, or make it happen. God doesn’t give us illness, but He does give us joy and peace through the storm which is not to say that we don’t still spend moments chasing surrender, but reminding ourselves that time is passing while we are busy crying down memory lane, it sure does make the drive much shorter. 

The diagnostic studies came back, and the imaging showed cancer in the left shin. The CT of the chest also showed what appeared to be a small spot on Jess’s lungs. The TCH Oncologist explained that it could be an indication of metastatic disease. While very small, they explained how they wanted to take her into surgery to remove the lump later in the week on Thursday.
 
“Imaging is one thing, but now the anxiety around yet another surgery began to creep in. Particularly, the fact that the medical team at TCH had misdiagnosed Jess, and then chose not to order clinically indicated pathology from the first surgery. Instead, opting only to check for bacteria”, said Chris.  This stuck out in the Taylor’s minds. 

Keep in mind that this was Tuesday morning, and the lung surgery was scheduled for Thursday morning. While they didn’t mention it to anyone at TCH, on Tuesday afternoon they called MD Anderson for a second opinion on the off-chance they could work Jess in on short notice. When they were told that the specialist Jess needed to see was out until next week, the family thought it must be God’s will for her to have that lung surgery. Late Tuesday evening, Chris received a call from a nurse at MD Anderson who explained that the specialist that Jess needed to see had come back into town early, and that since Jess had all of her diagnostic studies done she would be willing to see her Thursday morning. They made the appointment knowing that they couldn’t be two places at once, and prayed for God to decide. Then, Wednesday afternoon TCH called, and asked to reschedule the lung surgery for Friday… sign delivered; The Taylor’s had an extra day!

 

Jessica with her mom, dad, and sister, Frances.

Jessica with her mom, dad, and sister, Frances.

The family met with the team at MD Anderson, and they explained that the spot on Jess’s lungs was so small that it could not be sectioned for pathology, and that it could simply be some scar tissue from an old respiratory infection. They did not advise one way or the other, but did say that they would not perform it in their facility.  “Well, what to do?” Chris thought.  “We would start chemo on an accelerated schedule, and watch the confirmed site on her leg… at least now we know where it is.”

Knowing that they were only 100% certain cancer showing up in one place on all of the studies…on her shin…in a few weeks they will repeat all of the imaging and compare them. Jess is now being treating at MD Anderson. 

The initial course of treatment will last one year, and will include chemotherapy, radiation, and removal of the tumor site on her left leg followed by more chemotherapy. To date, Jess has had several rounds of chemotherapy, one additional surgery to remove the PICC line that she received at TCH, and replace it with a Port that is better suited to handle the chemotherapy drugs. 

After having surgery to remove the tumor site, she was presented with several options –  
* Rotationplasty (YouTube it) 
* Amputation 
* Limb salvage (replacing the bone with metal rods) 
* Allograph (replacing the bone with cadaver bone) 
She was so clear when they presented the options. Her response…
 
“Which one will I be able to ride my bike, and play volleyball the best with?” Rotationplasty it is, and Jess has never looked back!

In between chemo and the surgery she has been hospitalized several times with fever, and at times she has been in great physical peril, but even in those moments she has taken her beautiful spirit to lift others that she has met along the way. On Christmas day, she was hospitalized with fever, and Jess spent a stretch of a week until New Year’s Eve struggling. One morning, she was feeling better, and was worried about one of the little girls that she had befriended. The other little girl was very worried about a coming surgery scheduled for that afternoon, 12/31. 

Jess had been talking about it for days. “She’d better not back-out again”, Jess said. Jess was actually feeling good enough that morning to go the little girl’s room and hang out. Upon returning, Jess reported, “She’s really nervous, but I think she’s going to do it. I hope that we get to pray with her before they take her down.” She said. 

So, here the family was waiting for Jess’s release papers because, “Who wants to spend New Year’s Eve at a hospital?”, Chris commented. Her counts had recovered so it was time to go.
 
The staff at Huntsville Memorial Hospital wishes Jessica well.

The staff at Huntsville Memorial Hospital wishes Jessica well.

While still at the hospital, they had received some news worth celebrating while there. In repeating the CT, there was no metastases in the lungs this time. Jess went back and forth to her friend’s room in between moments of being interrupted by doctors visits. During those minutes, she was sitting on the edge of her bed fighting with her little sister, and watching for a sign that patient transport was going to wheel her friend down to the OR. Then….“They’re here Momma. Let’s go pray with her!”

You could see the uncertainty in her precious little eyes as Jess pushed her way past a nurse, and entered the girl’s room. But, both lit up with the brightest smiles as they hugged. “God loves you, and this is all going to be ok, He’s got this.”  Jess told her as they embraced. “Do you want us to pray with you?” Jess asked. “Yes” she replied. As Kelley, Frances, Jess, and Chris circled around her bed and joined hands. Chris described the moment…
 
“Just then, and right on cue, the little girl’s mother and grandmother returned to the room to join us. They had been crying, but held their tears from her.” Chris led in prayer, “Father, we come before you as slaves in your service in the name of Jesus Christ. We thank you for giving us strength and courage; We ask for your protection;  We ask that you clear a place in our hearts for you Lord; We ask that you take all of the fear, and worry from us, and fill it with the peace and faith. God, we completely surrender to your perfect will…And we would also like some vanilla Blue Bell when we get back from surgery. Amen.”

The Spirit put that prayer in Chris at that moment for a number of reasons, and he’s quite sure the little girl in the bed was not the only heart that was softening. The surgery went fine, and with the delay in Jess’s discharge paperwork the girls were able to catch up in post-op recovery just before the Taylor’s left for a night of New Year’s Eve fireworks.  
 
During Sunday Worship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church, Susan Kent gave the sermon, and at the end she invited anyone in need to come to the altar, and one of the pastors would pray over them. While their hearts were pushing them to guide Jess front and center, “our heads echoed with the advice of their youth pastor, Chris McLain, “you should not force her.” Just then, from the crowd emerged a friend who took Jess by the hand and led her to the front. It was Bryce. Her daughter, Grace, is one of the children that Jess works with in the Special Blessings Ministry. Bryce took her right up to Rob Renfroe (and yes, his hair looked perfect). Jess reached out and hugged him as the family watched from afar, and while they held her and prayed the Spirit filled Jess and the family with an indescribable peace. 

After service, Kelley told Chris how Bryce had stopped her earlier in the hall, and told her how important Jess has been to her little girl Grace, who is partially blind, and how Jess has helped Grace build on her communication skills. Bryce also asked for the details around the coming surgery, date, times, surgeons, etc… As it turns out, Bryce is an anesthesiologist at MD Anderson, and would be working the day of Jess’s surgery. Bryce had access, and wanted to be the familiar face in the OR with Jess as she went under, and to be there when she woke up. 
  
Fast forward a week and the family is making the rounds for surgical clearance. What was scheduled to take an entire day only took half. They just showed up and they kept taking Jess early. Jess wanted to bake some cookies for the nurses, and with that extra time she was able to do so. So, cookies in hand, they headed up to MD Anderson the day of surgery. They were able to pack 14 people into the little OR prep room which probably violated at least a few rules. However, the OR Director, Jenise, who is a close fried of the Taylor’s for 20 years, said they’d always make an exception for Jess. Chris said it was quite a party and a tearless departure.
 
Post-surgery, Jess is battling with pain, and the new mobility challenges of the rotationplasty, but soon she had the crowds cheering as she used her walker to scoot around the Unit. “She’s a show-off and everyone loves it.” Chris said. When she finally got a little tired she asked her Mom to wheel her around to minister to some of the other children in the unit. 
 
Chris and Kelley mentioned Jess’s youth pastors and good friends, Chris and Sky McLain from The Woodlands United Methodist Church were a great help. The majority of us have no idea what it would be like to have to deal with our child having cancer. Some advice they received from the McClain’s was very helpful. They indicated Jess may have some issues of acceptance just before surgery and to never force her to talk about it… that Jess and God would have to face it together.

 

“Jessica is doing so well, and has such an amazing and loving heart”, said Chris McLain. “She is truly at her best when she is able to share that heart with other children, see them smile, and watch them succeed. She was a story before cancer and that story is greater now that this loving spirit has been amplified by struggle, perseverance, and faith over fear.”
 
When I first met the Taylor’s at their home in Imperial Oaks, I was instantly welcomed by four of the most beautiful people you could ever have the privilege of meeting. Their three dogs were nothing short of awesome either. While at the house, I was given a chronology of events in words and in print. What? You think I write this well? Chris is quite the writer and multi-talented dude. Of course, his best quality is that of a loving father.
 
What I thought was the coolest thing in my time there was Jess insisting that I watch her do her stretching. She may be going through some very serious medical procedures to include the Rotationplasty which has her left foot facing the opposite direction but it doesn’t stop her from doing her stretching exercises. I’m a little off at times but I thought the Rotationplasty looked pretty darn cool. I told Jess that, too and she’s so awesome she knew I was complementing her.
 
Oh, her stretching…she’s an 11 year old contortionist. She can do the splits. Ouch! While stretching, we talked about what select volleyball team she’ll be playing on after she comes back. With her flexibility and her tolerance for pain, I suggested she specialize as a libero. I can see Jess diving all over the floor making insane digs all the while her opponents were thinking the point had already concluded.
 
With the combination of Jessica’s awesome medical staff, her strong faith and God’s grace, this too shall pass.

Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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Give a Little Hope, Help Make a Little Miracle

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

Giving hope… making miracles.

That’s the slogan of the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), an organization that helps children and young adults that need life-saving transplant surgery by providing fundraising assistance and family support.

Since 1986 COTA has helped nearly 2,000 kids and adults, raising over $70 million. Every dollar raised in honor of COTA’s patients is used for transplant-related expenses. It’s a little charity that has been doing good work for over 25 years. And the vast majority of us have never heard of COTA.

Until now.

halle lHalle Ludwig is a 12 year old girl in our community who has been fighting an ongoing battle with end-stage renal disease and is desperately in need of a kidney transplant. Halle received her mother’s kidney when she was two years old, but that kidney is now failing. The doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital have recommended a life-saving kidney transplant. COTA is helping to raise funds to pay for the cost of the transplant and the associated expenses before and after her transplant takes place.

Christine Clinkenbeard, Halle’s mom, describes how much help our community has already provided to date:

“The community has absolutely rallied for all of us during this time of need. TWHS Student Council sold t-shirts for us and raised $1,000 for COTA in Honor of Halle. They will be holding a silent auction this spring for COTA, as well. Oak Ridge has continued to support us and have donated baskets for this weekend’s fundraiser. Neighbors and people in the community have rushed to our aid. They have started a meal train for us to help ease the stress at home. It has been simply amazing.”

Our neighbors can continue to help Halle Ludwig on Saturday, January 25th at Mama J’s BBQ & Grill, as COTA will be holding a fundraiser for Halle. Mama J’s is located on the I-45 northbound feeder, a few blocks before you get to Robinson Road, at the site of the old Sam’s Boat. The fundraiser begins at 5:00 pm Saturday and will continue until 11:00 pm.

La Hacienda Treatment Facility, BMW, Holiday World and the Terre Haute Firefighters Union Local 758 and more have all helped to put on the event.

Several items have already been donated for the event, including:

  • A signed photo and jersey from the Houston Rockets James Harden
  • An autographed picture and basketball from Rocket center Omer Asik
  • A signed scarf from the Houston Dynamo
  • An autographed football from the Houston Texans
  • A baseball signed by MLB Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and his Chicago Cubs teammates
  • An autographed book from Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell of “Lone Survivor”
  • Time shares, jewelry, gift cards, gift baskets, and gift certificates from local businesses too numerous to name

At this point Halle’s kidney is functioning at approximately 10-15%.  Halle’s great uncle is a preliminary blood and tissue match, and in a few weeks the transplant boards at St, Luke’s Downtown and Texas Children’s will consider the transplant. The kidney she has now is not only failing but is causing a severe reservoir of urine to collect above the bladder.

Halle’s mom describes what lies ahead for her daughter:

“If my uncle is a match, we will immediately schedule the removal of the kidney. She will then undergo six weeks of hemodialysis three times weekly at Texas Children’s downtown while she heals from the surgery. After a six week recovery time, she will then be transplanted. They will remove the donor’s kidney at St. Luke’s and do Halle’s surgery at Texas Children’s.  

Then she will spend three weeks in the hospital and will not be allowed to be around large crowds or strangers for six weeks post transplant.  She’ll begin partial home bound schooling upon removal of the kidney, and will go to complete home bound at the time of transplant.  

If my uncle does not match or for some reason cannot complete the surgery, we will continue testing donors and we will wait until her kidney completely fails before we remove it.  She is chronically, progressively, and quickly worsening with regard to kidney function.”

Come on out to Mama J’s on the 25th – it will be a great night with a live band and great food. For those who can not attend but would like to donate, you can go check out Halle’s COTA transplant web page.

Halle has given all of us an opportunity to bless her through our hearts, our prayers, and our pocketbooks. We all have a chance to contribute just a little bit, to give a little hope, and help make a little miracle.

See you at Mama J’s!

Comments to Doug Sarant at doug@oakridgenow.com

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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Eleven Questions With… Makenna Spencer, ORHS Whirlwind

Photo courtesy of Chuck Briese

There are a whole bunch of interesting and dynamic people in our community, and we at Oak Ridge Now like to bring them to you. Today we have eleven questions for Makenna Spencer, Oak Ridge High School senior class President, Homecoming Queen, Colonel of the Liberty Belles, National Dance Solo Champion, and most recently, participant in the Miss Teen Texas USA pageant as Miss Teen Spring. How she has the time to make the grades necessary to make it into Texas A&M, I do not know.

Seriously, though, here’s a young lady with her head on straight. She’s grounded, knows what’s important in her life, and has a plan. Meet Makenna Spencer:

How long have you been in the Oak Ridge area?  What is it about our area or your neighborhood that you like?

Since the 6th grade.  The thing I like most about my neighborhood is all the nature and trees that surround us. I live in Benders Landing so the lots are large and there’s a lot of room to have fun outside. 

You are a senior now at Oak Ridge High School. Do you feel prepared for college? Where will you be going?

Yes, I feel really prepared for college. I have been working extremely hard in school taking advanced classes, being involved in many clubs and organizations. I recently got accepted into Texas A&M University and am truly excited and honored to be going there next year.

What individuals at ORHS have had the biggest impact on your life? How so?

Mrs. Barber has had a big impact on my life in high school. She has helped me develop not only great dancing abilities, but also wonderful leadership skills. I am currently honored  to be the Colonel of the dance team.

Mrs. Costas has also had a great impact on my life. She was my counselor my freshman year of high school and has such a loving, caring and generous heart for all the students she comes into contact with. She is a great influence to me because she encourages me to always give a 110%, and her love for others is contagious! I’m sure Oak Ridge is so grateful to have her.

You have achieved the rank of Colonel in the Oak Ridge Liberty Belles. Why did you originally join the Liberty Belles?

I have always loved to dance. It’s my passion and something I look forward to doing. Being selected as Colonel I now have the opportunity to be a positive impact on those girls. My desire is to influence and encourage them in a way that they feel loved and wanted on that team. God has blessed me in so many ways, Colonel being one of them, that I long to be a blessing and a godly role model to those girls.

How much time goes into being part of the Liberty Belles? What is the most difficult part?

Being a Liberty Belle is a lot of work. We practice about 14 hours a week and the officers usually have additional practices. The most difficult part is unity. My hope is for this team to be close with each other, stick up for one another, encourage and act as if we were sisters.

What is your fondest Liberty Belle memory to date?

Definitely winning National Solo Champion this past year in Denton. That was a dream come true and such a blessing!! Ill never forget that night. But it’s also the relationships I’ve made and all the great times I’ve spent with those girls. They mean so much to me, and are my sisters away from home.

If you had to give advice to incoming ORHS freshmen, what would it be?

To come into high school with the right mindset of wanting to succeed and work hard in their studies and extracurricular activities. Also, to believe in themselves and be ready for anything. Life takes some serious twists and turns. Your friends may change, or you may be going through a tough time at home, just make sure to always stay positive and remember that God is in control and is always there for you.

Tell me about your faith in God, and how that affects your daily life.

Spending quality time with Jesus has enabled me to look at everyone and everything a whole new way. I have more love, joy and peace than I ever had before which helps me to be a positive influence on others. It also helps me do the best I can in making a difference in the lives of others. Knowing Jesus has caused me to be different in many ways including giving me a servant’s heart, uplifting leadership skills as well as a love for others. I want to be a light in the sometimes-dark world we live in.  As Colonel of my Dance Team and Senior Class President, in addition to the other clubs and activities I’m in, I am able to be a positive role model and a witness of Jesus Christ to those around me.

How do you think you might serve God in the future? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I have been accepted to Texas A&M and plan to get my degree in Kinesiology and then pursue a degree in Physical Therapy. I also hope to make the Aggie Dance Team and after college try out for the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. I hope to share my faith and joy in Christ with those I meet in college, on the Aggie Dance team and DCC team and others that I meet in college and during my career.

Life has not always been a bed of roses for you – you’re a child of divorce. How has that affected your life?

Divorce is definitely something I would not have chosen for my family but I’m very thankful that God has restored each of our hearts and lives. God has definitely healed our hurts, and I’m thankful that my mom and dad have a great relationship and work together to be great parents for us. I know that the forgiveness they’ve shown one another is from God. They do not display the bitterness or anger that I’ve seen many other divorced parents display, and instead treat one another with dignity and respect.

Do you have any advice for kids whose parents are going through a divorce?

Yes, definitely talk to others (or a Christian counselor) if you can. Also take your hurts and disappointments to God and ask Him for the peace and healing that only He can provide. It may not be a quick fix but over time, God will definitely work in your heart to bring good even out of difficult things like divorce.

We are blessed to have Makenna Spencer in our community, as well as her family, her teachers and counselors, and all the other individuals who have played a part in making her the wonderful young woman that she is today.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Fitting 81 Years Of Life Into 21 Short Years On Earth

It was late in the morning on Tuesday, July 17th and I was driving through our neighborhood in Imperial Oaks and then on to Oak Ridge. Nothing too special about the day – just the area at its best with the sun shining, children splashing around the local pools and people waving to me that I don’t know. “The Wave” is something I’ve learned to enjoy here as although I grew up in a pretty area of Connecticut, you’d never get the wave from people you don’t know. Yep, it was another beautiful day here that exudes life.

However, later in the day as the sun was going down, there would be a tragedy that would literally rock the core of this otherwise quiet area. Many of us started receiving texts, emails and phone calls regarding the tragic and unexpected death of one of our beloved members of the Oak Ridge community whose impact would be felt by so many and literally crush the spirit of so many young boys he called, “Friend”. A piece of our hearts would be lost in the furor over the seemingly senseless death of William Montgomery Murray, age 21.

Will grew up in Oak Ridge and attended Oak Ridge High School where he was a standout pitcher for the War Eagles and Coach Stacy Scheiner. I remember a day a few years back when Will shined more than he ever had wearing the Oak Ridge royal blue. When Oak Ridge defeats The Woodlands in anything, it is a huge deal because it just doesn’t happen very often.

Speaking with Ryan Bonnot, who pitched for The Woodlands that infamous game, he said that Will was fearless. Will gave it everything he had to help the team come out the victors against their rivals, the Highlanders. I overheard Will telling his teammates that he knew he made his family proud that day as it was a dream of his to finally beat this team. The crowd was cheering Will and his teammates and the stands were filled with ecstatic fans. More than a few parents, coaches and players could be seen with tears of joy in their eyes.

Will showed his true spirit when he was surrounded by his teammates. It was a moment in time that teammates don’t ever forget. Sometimes, people don’t seem to understand the bond that is developed between teammates at not only the high school level, but even lower levels. Teammates share in these glorious times forever!

A few of Will’s closest friends, which is hard to say as he had so many, gave eulogies at the funeral that were truly heartfelt and touching. Moses Molina spoke of Will’s “Big Hugs”. Baseball secured many of the boys relationships, but was really just a part of who Will Murray was. Moses reached out to the congregation and blinded by tears said, “You are only as good as the person beside you. God bless you, God love you, look next to you and embrace the love you feel right now as we honor Will. Moses then commented on something very important their Coach (Stacy Scheiner) said to them a few years back… Don’t ever forget to tell the ones you love how much you love them.”

Michael Molina, in a very emotional speech, so eloquently said, “Will lived the life of an 81 year old at 21 years young.” Baseball offered the support that Will never stopped giving as a teammate, a friend and a mentor. Will was a great friend and all our happy times are now a memory but I will always cherish those times in my heart. Now swimming upstream, our memories are cherished and can never be taken from any one of us. Bonded by love, the wonderful friendships Will made will be forever.”

Preston Gustavsen spoke of one of Will’s many love’s in life, fishing. Although Preston, was at the bad side of being hooked by Will on occasion, he loved Will’s laugh and how he sang loudly and how special a person and friend he really was to everyone he called, “friend”. Once a friend, always a friend, always had your back and the camaraderie that existed was unbreakable. Some of the lessons Preston mentioned that he learned from Will was how giving, adoring and athletic he was, and knowing it was a gift from God. He trusted God, and one day committed that trust to love. Will never wasted an opportunity to have fun and made everyone around him join in.

Darrell Abke, willfully and endearingly offered his insights into the spirit of Will. He jokingly said how every time Will would call, he’d say simply, “talk to me”. “It made me smile every time I heard his voice.” He endearingly, and tearfully said goodbye to Will, simply by saying,”I miss him so much and God bless Will Murray.”

Stevyn Rivera stated how the world was a better place with Will Murray in it. It was an honor to be the one to pull Will out of the river and touch his face for what would be the last time.” He added a little levity to the proceedings by jokingly talking about their baseball positions. Stevyn said they would always argue about who was really the pitcher and who was really the catcher.

William Montgomery Murray had an uncanny ability to reach out to people, always in a positive manner. He truly lived life to the fullest through simple pleasures- always being surrounded by family and friends, fishing with friends every chance he got and the way he played baseball, all heart and simply put, “For the Love of the Game”.

We will miss you Will, but you will always be a part of our lives.

For those few who missed out on the funeral… not sure how because it was SRO at Oak Ridge Baptist Church. The funeral was led by the Reverend Floyd Hoke and Youth Minister Neal Matthews. Reverend Hoke gave the opening words and Reverend Matthews handled the rest of the proceedings. Both were awesome and Matthews would do well to moonlight as a comedian. He kept us light and he kept us smiling with tears.

Tom, Janelle, James, TJ, and Sam, we thank you for giving us the opportunity as a community to say our good-byes to our beloved friend, Will. You and those close to you have endured quite the rough ride these last nine months, as it was that long ago that TJ came up missing.

Last week, in watching KHOU’s report on Will and also TJ’s not having been found, Will’s oldest brother, James was interviewed and displayed serious strength describing the Murray’s feelings and that God would carry them through these rough times. James will most assuredly be God’s right hand man.

Saying good-bye to loved ones is always a heart-wrenching experience, but somehow the support of family and friends makes it a little easier. We can begin to turn our mourning and grieving into remembrance. Remembrance of the happy times and special memories in Will’s life that we have to celebrate. The fond memories spoken of today at this celebration of life will be valued, cherished and never forgotten. They will remain in all our hearts, forever.

I think Will would want you to read the following lyrics by Ce Ce Winans and live by their touching words.  There are things that cannot be fixed, but maybe someday we will have a better understanding of the death of Will Murray.

“Here we are again, that old familiar place

When the wind will blow, no one ever knows the time or space

Don’t cry for me, don’t shed a tear.

The time I’ve shared with you will ALWAYS be

And when I’m gone still carry on, don’t cry for me

No one is to blame, my death was meant to be

Don’t carry guilt or shame, the reason why I came soon you’ll see

Don’t cry for me

Don’t shed a tear

The time I’ve shared with you will always be

And when I’m gone, please carry on, don’t cry for me

Dont cry when life is not the joy it should be

With life comes pain

Soon time will end its cause appointed

Then you will be rewarded and all the world will see

Don’t cry for me, don’t shed a tear, the time I’ve shared with you will always be

And when I’m gone life still carries on

Don’t cry for me…

We’d like to thank all the members of the community for their support and especially Laura Diller for coordinating all the meals. Pit Master BBQ, PF Chang’s, Tewbeleaux’s and Stir Crazy for the food donations and their continuous support of the Oak Ridge community.

Tom and Janelle Murray and their family wish to thank all of their friends and the people in our community that have shown them kindness and love through this difficult time.

By Maura McMahon-Steinman and Doug Sarant

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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A Long, Long Day at American Idol Tryouts

So, I had my fifteen seconds of fame at American Idol tryouts in Oklahoma City. If any of you have ever watched the show or the auditions, it’s completely different.

Overall, the experience was amazing. My aunt and I spent a lot of time waiting. Waiting while crowds were moved around. Waiting through group screenings. Although it was tiring, there were loads of characters that made everything fun, and good number of hipsters, and I saw music and styles that I didn’t even know existed.

You know you’re there when there’s a guy with red latex pants, a giant scarf, and spiky hair singing to a group of people. It’s not Oak Ridge.

Anyway, I registered at the Chesapeake Energy Arena (where the Thunder play), and walked in. They asked for my ID, and gave me a bracelet with forms to fill out. One of the forms was a story sheet that explains yourself with a list of questions about your life. I filled it all out and rehearsed my version of “Imagine” by John Lennon for most of the day.

We had stayed the night before at the nicest hotel in the area, and I figured that some of the American Idol officials were staying here. I asked several times jokingly to the guy at the front desk if Ryan Seacrest was here. Each time he hinted at me, “I can’t give away that information”. Though eventually I did see some of what I thought to be some of the staff in the halls, because they had some Idol accessories on.

Some of the people in Oklahoma were shocked to see so many musicians walking around the city, and a few actually seemed pretty annoyed by it. When my aunt and I went on a little boat tour, a few people wanted me to sing. So I did, and they said it was good. This old guy actually said he had a lot of confidence in me, which was pretty cool.

Knowing that I’m nocturnal, it was hard for me to fall asleep. I also knew that this whole experience would require a good eight hours. I actually only managed to get three and a half, which somehow would have to do.

My aunt woke me up at 4, and we made our way to the stadium. We walked through a few streets to see lines of thousands of people conversing and singing in little groups. We sat down at the end of the line by a gate, and met a few people. After a few hours, we stood up and got to see Ryan Seacrest, this being a little after dawn. He had a megaphone in his hand, while other camera crew people told everyone to chant goofy stuff like “We’re ready for you Ryan!” and cheer excessively. We took around two hours of takes, which was relatively annoying. Around this time there were people getting shots of the whole crowd and a helicopter flying above us. I also noticed some news vans and radio station booths interviewing people.

Finally they directed the crowds of people to walk in the stadium, which took a bit. We walked in and found our seats first, wanting to sit down for a few minutes. There were American Idol designs/logos/signs all around the arena, and the feeling in there was really unique. We bought some drinks and snacks, and waited there with my forms until someone did something on the center of the arena. All the producers were in a big crowd, and they talked to us about what was going to happen. Of course they had another big entrance for Ryan Seacrest, who just did a lot of pointless inspirational chanting, “Are you ready, Oklahoma City?!” “Is the next American Idol in this arena?!” etc…

After some more crowd shots and people cheering, they finally rolled out the booths. There were twelve of them, with one, two, and sometimes three producers per booth. By this time, we’d been here for five hours. So people from each section started walking down in rows to each booth, and started singing. Everything was on it’s way. If I can remember, the first person to get a golden ticket was a really buff black guy who sang in a really high pitch. Most of the time though, people had to walk to one of the crew people to get their wristband removed, and end their journey.

The turnout of some of these auditions was pretty lame. I mean I enjoyed being there, but there were people with amazing voices that weren’t given a ticket because they were either boring or didn’t have ties with any of the producers beforehand. (During the chants, they walked around and gave interesting people who grabbed a lot of attention stickers. I’m guessing they signified them as important, because most of the sticker people made it through)

We were the second to last section, and each section took around thirty minutes or so to clear. I eventually walked around with my aunt, and the scenery around the stadium and at the concessions was the coolest thing ever. In each corner were people practicing, singing together and having a good time. It kind of reminded me of the ending to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas“, because some of the people who were eliminated were singing in groups as well. It just shows that a huge number of people here actually love music, and are just waiting for their chance to show it. Oh and yeah, the bathrooms were probably the most popular place to sing.

So, skip forward about six hours of hanging out in our seat, talking about the competition, and singing around some friendly people next to us. Our section was up, and I was nervous as ever. They took my release forms, and my seat ticket. I waited in a long line, until I was directed to Booth #8, which had famous pianist Michael Orland and some important British lady. I made a deal with the girl that sat next to me the whole time, that if either of us won the entire thing, that person would give the other a thousand dollars. Pretty good odds. I noticed while being in line, that barely anyone was now receiving tickets. They gave maybe one or two in the whole thirty minutes of me being in line. That made my confidence go waaaaay down.

Our group of four people was finally up, which consisted of the girl I sat next to, some really cute girl with freckles, and a really quiet girl (probably around 70% of the people auditioning were girls). The British lady called me up, and I sat there shaking with my arms to my side.

Michael Orland goes “So Levi, you know there’s a jeans company named after you, right?” I laughed nervously and nodded, and they asked me what I was going to sing. I stood there and sang the “Christina Perri – Jar of Hearts” chorus for about twenty to thirty seconds. I was so pleased with the way I sounded, and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t screwing up. It felt so natural. I was complimented and nodded to. I waited for the rest of my group to sing, and to hear my fate. Ironically, every girl in the group messed up part of their lyrics one way or another, had pauses, stuff like that. Michael was pretty harsh on them, and sounded annoyed by their nerves acting up. They all had pretty voices though, along with a good majority of the arena full of talent.

They had a long whisper conversation, which seemed pretty weird. I saw Michael look at me a lot, it was awkward and made me feel even more nervous. Buuuuut, it was a no. They told us that we all had great voices, but needed to form them up a little.

I walked away pretty happy with myself, which was completely opposite of what I thought I’d feel like. Most of the girls were quiet after that, and my aunt and I walked down towards the exit. We got to see a cameraman interviewing the really quiet girl in our group, she was bawling pretty hard and the cameraman of course thought of it as good footage. We drove back to the hotel and I fell asleep, woke up and felt pretty good.

All in all, I’d guess 3% or so were given a ticket. They obviously had to give tons of tickets to really goofy/interesting/outrageous people, as well as low quality singers to give a good mix for the celebrity auditions. It’s pretty lame, but that’s the reality in reality television.

This isn’t the end though, I may sound a little mainstream but I’m going to pursue this voice that I was given and improve it. After all, I only started singing a few months ago – all of it being to myself, and having no training whatsoever. Don’t count Levi Briese out.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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On Class: The Road Less Traveled

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

This story that I wrote for Oak Ridge Now two years ago is dedicated to a new friend whom Linda and I met through the People to People Ambassador Program. Her junior high school daughter is presently on a P2P trip in Australia with Linda. This great mom is recently widowed. Dana (Dovell), your strength and faith in how you have handled tragedy in your life reminded me of a story I wrote about an Oak Ridge High School student a couple years ago. You and this boy are similar in that you both took the road less traveled. Your “way” is special and you are all about the message in this story. We are fortunate to have met you as you are an example of what the Oak Ridge High School feeder zone is packed with… it’s packed with CLASS!!! This story is for you, Dana.

The other day I was talking to an Oak Ridge high school student/athlete. This particular person had already been through some traumatic experiences in his young life which has made him wise beyond his years. Sometimes, it seems like we have to go through some tough times in order to grow. I mentioned to him how impressed I was with him in that although he has experienced massive hardship, he didn’t allow it to take him down a wrong path. I said people would have excused him if he had a few hiccups, yet he used his experiences to help him.

His response was classic. “It would have been easy for me to be weak because that’s what everyone expected me to be. I could have milked everyone and walked around feeling sorry for myself”. He continued, “For a few weeks I was a little quieter than usual which in turn taught me how to be observant enabling me to see how other people really are. I can’t say I did this on purpose, it just happened. During this time, I saw how people treat each other. How some people are just naturally nice and comfortable with others, while others try to create negative things about people to try and build themselves up.”

In talking to this young man, I had to constantly remind myself that I was listening to a teenager. He went on to say he wanted to be one of the people in this world who makes lemonade out of lemons.

Before our conversation turned to something of a less serious nature, I had to ask him if he would mind if I wrote a story about him. I told him a lot of people in his position do not go down the road he took and perhaps this would be good for some people. He said he preferred to not make a spectacle of his trying times and that it would be better for him and others personally involved to just continue to go through these times alone. He did say that I could always write the story without using his name.

Well, that’s the story. Later that day, I came across a writing a friend of mine had given me a few years ago. My friend is a fellow coach and he gives this to each of his players on every team he coaches. I picked it up and read it again. I thought to myself, “This describes the young man I just had a conversation with.”

It’s about “Class”. We all have weak moments and stray from the following description of “Class”. However, I figure if a teenager can lead his life with class, perhaps we can all learn to stray less often. How cool is it that we can continue to learn from young people?

“Class never runs scared. It is sure-footed and confident. It can handle whatever comes along.

Class has a sense of humor. It knows that a good laugh is the best way for people to break the ice with each other.

Class never makes excuses. It takes its lumps and learns from past mistakes.

Class knows that good manners are nothing more than a series of small, effortless sacrifices.

Class has no social status and has nothing to do with money. Some wealthy people have no class. Yet, some people who are struggling are loaded with it.

Class is real. It can not be faked.

Class never tries to build itself up by tearing someone else down. Class is already “up” and doesn’t need to strive to look better by making others look bad.

Class can hang around with everyone. Whether you are popular or unpopular, you are comfortable with class because class is comfortable with himself.

If you have class, you’ve got it made. If you don’t have class, no matter what else you have, it doesn’t make any difference.”

The youth of Oak Ridge RULE!!!!

[Editor’s note: so do a lot of the older folks]

Doug Sarant can be reached at doug@oakridgenow.com

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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10 Do’s and Don’ts for Graduating Seniors

Editor’s Note: This is an article that ran two years ago to the day in Oak Ridge Now. We’re republishing it today because it still offers some excellent advice to our kids that graduated this past weekend.

Last week, in celebration of the high school graduation season I was thinking of some good subjects to write about. The thought of writing my 10 do’s and 10 don’ts for graduating high school seniors came to mind. Then I figured I wouldn’t be a good candidate because this high school generation is two generations from me. What good advice could I possibly offer these young people having attended high school over 30 years ago? NONE!

So, I picked out one of my favorite young people of all time. This person has been out of college for a year and graduated from a high school in this area five years ago. To put it simply, this guy can relate! He was the kind of kid that could relate to everyone. He was an excellent student..a great athlete..liked to party and have a ton of fun..respectful to everyone..and focused.

I met Nick Gilligan at a Lacrosse camp I was coaching the summer before his freshman year of high school. He was a kid with an edge and quite brash. Nick would get in trouble at times and had a bit of an attitude. Yet, you just knew this was one of those kids that would be fine with time.

Long story short, after a fun filled and academically successful high school career he was recruited to play Lacrosse at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He could have attended any number of colleges but went to Amherst because it is strong academically as evidenced by its informal label of being a “mini Ivy” school.

Now a proud graduate of Amherst and having played four years of lacrosse there, Nick is now working as an analyst for a financial restructuring firm in New York City where he also lives.

Here are Nick Gilligan’s 10 do’s and 10 don’ts for graduating high school seniors.

DO…..

1. Do your best to stay close with your high school friends. You will inevitably lose touch with a lot of people, but make a strong effort to stay close with those who matter most to you. This will only happen if you try. To this day my high school friends and I get together at the end of every summer for a camping trip, and although things are much different now, we are all still very good friends.

2. Call your parents. No explanation necessary on this one. If not for you, do it for them- they will be worried. (This also applies to grandparents and siblings)

3. Travel. Plain and simple, do your best to travel as much as you possibly can. There is a big world outside of Texas and unfortunately a lot of people don’t get to see it. If you have the financial means (and even if you don’t and you need to scrape by), go see the world- or at the very least the rest of the country. If you have an opportunity to study abroad, DO IT. I spent the fall semester of my junior year studying in Florence, Italy. Sure, it was expensive and I lived on ramen noodles for three months, but it was an absolutely incredible experience.

4. Step outside your comfort zone. This is a big one, mostly because it isn’t easy to do. You’ve heard the saying “birds of a feather fly together.” People tend to flock to those who are most like them. There is nothing wrong with that, but every now and then try to meet new people. This can be as simple as sitting next to someone different in the cafeteria. Trust me, you may be pleasantly surprised.

5. Get to know your professors. Go to their office and ask questions on things you don’t understand. This will make a huge difference in your grades simply because they will see that you are trying and will appreciate your effort. After all, they are the ones who ultimately decide your grades.

6. Learn your limits with drinking. I don’t care if you drank every single night in high school or if your drinking history consists of a sip of your mom’s champagne on New Year’s Eve…you will need to learn your limits. Whether you end up going to a huge public university or a small private college, a significant portion of the social scene will revolve around drinking. If you choose to partake, make sure you learn your limits. There is nothing sadder to watch than that freshman who is stumbling around the quad the first weekend of school blacked out drunk off of three Smirnoff Ices. Don’t be that guy/girl.

7. Learn to manage your time. College will be much more challenging than high school, but it will be substantially easier on you if you learn to manage your time early on. Buy a daily planner and stay organized…otherwise midterms/finals weeks will really beat you up.

8. Join a team/club/group. If you aren’t going to school on an athletic scholarship, no big deal. There are tons of intramural and club sports for you to join- and I suggest you do. Not only will this help you to meet people, but having some sort of athletic/physical activity will ultimately serve you well. Ever hear of the “Freshman 15”? Yeah, it’s a real thing. Enough said.

9. Learn how to build your class schedule. All professors are not created equal. The fact of the matter is building your schedule is an art form- and one that can make or break your semester. Obviously, you will have certain requirements that need to be met, especially once you’ve declared a major, but even then there are some professors that are known to be better/easier than others. There are plenty of resources at your disposal to learn more about this. Most schools have a website that allows students to rate their professors and make comments about the course. Sometimes, the most useful resource is to talk to upperclassmen. Ask them about certain classes and professors- most will be more than willing to help.

10. Be spontaneous. Try new things, and they don’t always need to be planned out. My friends and I took several spur-of-the-moment road trips in college and they were some of the most fun times.

DON’T…

1. Don’t hang around your high school. Listen, I grew up in The Woodlands/Oak Ridge area and I cherish my high schools days, but don’t be the person that is still hanging around the high school like you are still going there after you graduate. The occasional football game to see old friends is fun once in a while. However, it’s time to move on. It’s cool to get a letter jacket in high school but when you see a graduate still wearing one a few years after graduation, you will look at that person and think, “That person needs to get a life.” In the movie, Varsity Blues, there was a 35 year old wearing his letter jacket at a high school keg party. Do NOT be that guy!

2. Don’t lose sight of your goals. If you know what you want to do with your life, DO IT. Don’t let anything stand in your way. And if you don’t know, no big deal at all. Take your time and find something you enjoy- but when you do figure it out, go after it with everything you have.

3. Don’t take the time you have in college for granted. Do you feel like just yesterday you were in 8th grade? Well guess what? You will be a college graduate in no time at all. The next four years will absolutely fly by. Make sure you stop and smell the roses as often as you can.

4. Don’t stay with your high school boyfriend/girlfriend. This is a sensitive subject, but needs to be addressed. I don’t care how much you and your significant other love each other; you both need to go to college single. I’m not suggesting that it won’t work out with that person eventually (I’ve definitely seen it happen), but it’s important that you aren’t held back by anything when trying to meet new people in college. Trust me on this one.

5. Don’t get overwhelmed. I’m not going to butter it up for you- college will be tough at times. It is a huge adjustment from high school. One of my best friends growing up was an absolute genius. I used to be amazed because he would NEVER study for tests, yet would always ace them with ease. He called me one night during his first semester of college and told me that he had just taken his first exam and completely bombed it! I will never forget what he said, “Nick, I think I’m going to have to start studying for these things.” Stay organized and learn to manage your time well and you will be fine.

6. Don’t get caught doing anything incriminating…and if you do, don’t let it wind up on the internet! This is one that our parents didn’t have to worry about back in their day. The truth of the matter is, in today’s day and age, you are responsible for EVERYTHING you do. Remember earlier when I told you to learn your limits with drinking? Well, these two sort of go hand-in-hand. I’ve seen people lose their scholarships and get kicked out of school because of some stupid drunken mistake they made that happened to wind up on Facebook the next day. I’m sure most of you are thinking “oh that could never happen to me,” but trust me… it can. Just be careful.

7. Don’t get a pet. It is cruel and unusual punishment to subject any animal to the college dorm scene. Take my word on this one. In my four years I witnessed a rabbit cage get destroyed, a hamster get loose (and never found) in a dorm, and probably a good dozen goldfish get placed in beer and chugged (gross, I know, but talk to me after your college graduation).

8. Don’t get caught up in drama. 99% of you probably learned this the hard way in high school. Don’t let it happen in college. Roll with the punches and surround yourself with people and things that make you happy, not stressed.

9. When the time comes to start the internship/job search, don’t freak out! This is a couple years down the road for most of you, but I made this mistake. Junior year everyone will start competing for internships with top firms in their respective fields. The idea is to land a great internship, work your tail off, and then get a job offer at the end of the summer and have nothing to worry about during your senior year. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the way it works. My offer was revoked because the firm I worked for got hit by the tough economy. I spent hundreds of hours interviewing and stressing about landing a job- but guess what? It all worked out in the end. I wound up landing a great job just before graduation (as did a lot of my friends, some even afterwards). The bottom line here is don’t stress, everything will work out if you work hard.

10. Don’t forget the people who got you to where you are. Whether this means your parents, neighbors, teachers, or coaches, make sure you remember where you came from and those who helped you along the way. I’m fortunate to have a lot of people fall into this category, and I do my best to let them know how much I appreciate it.

Nick Gilligan made the All-Conference academic team at Amherst. While in high school, he made the All-State team and was nominated for All-American. However, he likes to talk more about how much fun it was in this area and how he hopes people look at him as being gifted socially.

Nick is living proof that you can have a ton of fun but remain focused enough to achieve your goals.

Good luck graduating seniors! Life begins now.

Doug Sarant can be reached at doug@oakridgenow.com

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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In The Spotlight: Taylor Dye, Overcoming Dyslexia

Often times, many of us carry on in life like we are living in la la land because we were born without any alleged disabilities. Albeit, the jury is still out on me.

I’m probably more guilty of this than anyone so once in a while I’ll go out and find someone who has to fight through adversity on a daily basis. The good news is I get to take you on these journeys.

I’m no different than any of you in that I tend to get on the excuse train when I am feeling lazy or sorry for myself. Well, one day I was in line at Subway and I got into a conversation with a man who has a son that plays football for Oak Ridge. The line was long and we had some time to kill. If you are with me during these situations and you are not a talker, you will need to be polite and tell me to shut the hell up or you’ll be telling me your life story within five minutes.

Luckily, this man was very engaging and we got into a conversation about many things, but mainly dyslexia. The connection was his son has dyslexia and my wife who teaches elementary school and has some experience in this area in dealing with some of her kids over the years.  He went into detail as to his son’s trials and tribulations and it just fascinated me as to how this gentleman’s son has been able to overcome his issues. Being the nosy writer that I am, I had to ask this man if he wouldn’t mind if I did an In The Spotlight article on his son. His response was polite as he said this is a personal issue but he’d ask his son and would get back to me.

I’m pleased to say we received a positive response … Meet Oak Ridge sophomore Taylor Dye:

When did you start figuring out that you might have some type of learning disability?
I’m not sure. I do remember fourth grade was when school became frustrating and not much fun.

What were some of the symptoms you noticed?
The things that really frustrated me were the numbers were moving around on the page.They even seemed to be floating in the air at times. I would read and write numbers and letters backwards. That meant I would miss easy math problems or mis-read words that would change the meaning of what I was reading.

When and how did you start dealing with this?
By the end of my 4th grade year I was working with Mrs. Bradley. She was using a program called Basic Language Skills. It was really in depth. I had to relearn my letters and their sounds all over again. Then blend and unblend letter’s sounds to read and spell words. I remember writing a lot. At first,  just spelling words, then writing sentences, and then to writing paragraphs. I even learned about the history of the English language and where the words we use came from. I also had to learn spelling rules to help me spell correctly. The whole program took about four years to complete.

If you are taking a course that requires a lot of reading in a short time, how do you accomplish all that you have to do?
Sometimes, instead of reading a book for a report or something, I will listen to it on tape or CD. My teachers will have read alongs, tapes, movies, or CD’s during class and that helps me a bunch.

You have had to work harder than most people to get through school and you can’t be commended enough for your massive efforts. However, overcoming dyslexia is a team effort. Can you tell us about your team?
First off, I have to say that without my dyslexia coaches Mrs. Bradley, Ms. Caves, and Mrs. Japp. I don’t think I would be doing as well as I am. Also, my teachers have been great. I have not had a teacher yet that has not been willing to work with me and sometimes that can be tough on them. I use to go to tutorials in the afternoons at Houser, Vogel, York and here at Oak Ridge High School.

I go to lots of tutorials in the mornings, before school, because of football. My teachers have gone so far as to give me printed notes for class so that it is easier for me to keep up. Being dyslexic doesn’t mean I can’t do all the work, it just means it will usually take me longer to finish it. I guess  too, I have had to learn to communicate better so that my teachers understand my situation.

Do you think having dyslexia has made you mentally tough?
I’m not sure of my mental toughness, but I do have to deal with myself. If I was to make excuses, I wouldn’t be able to progress. Not making excuses comes natural to me so I don’t look at it as being mentally tough. I can get tough on myself and doubt my ability to be successful. That’s when  my family and friends can be very helpful. They’re part of the team, too.

Do you think having dyslexia has forced you to grow up faster than most kids?
Not so much. I think a lot of kids have to grow up faster than they want to because of situations life may throw at them. To hear my mom and dad talk about it, kids today are growing up faster than they used to.

You play center in football. That requires a lot of reading diagrams and play books.

The position is underrated in that the center doesn’t just hike the football. The center has more responsibility than every player on the team except the quarterback. Offensive line coaches tend to think the center has even more responsibility. A person in your situation could have chosen a less complicated position like right guard. How did you get started at center?
Wow, tough question. I have been playing organized tackle football since I was 6 years old in Kenner, La. When I was eight, we moved here to Spring. I joined the SCFL (South County Football League), played at York, and now at Oak Ridge. I have always played center pretty much and learning plays was never a problem. Then, last year Coach Kitterman brought in a new offense with no huddle and it was hard for me to learn. Not so much learning the plays but having to think of what blocks to make against what defense in a matter of seconds. I started out last spring at center, then right tackle, then back to center, then to right guard, and then finally to left guard. After the first week of spring practice I was on the fourth string and doubting myself. Thanks to coaches Bailey and Caganaan continually working with me and pushing me I became the starting right guard on the JV-A team. Because of my moving around, I actually became familiar with all the positions on the offensive line and the different blocking assignments. In fact, during the Woodlands game I was asked to move to the center position, where I stayed for the rest of the season against Lufkin and Kingwood. I have to give a shout out to Coach Kitterman. He has worked with me since the summer and all through the season. He has been a big help not only solidifying the plays in my head but helping me with my technique at a new position.

I see that you really appreciate the people who have helped you deal with dyslexia. Do you do anything to help others that have the same issue?
Yes. My dad works with dyslexic students at Oak Ridge Elementary and I go over from time to time to work with his students. Mainly, I tell them if they work hard and follow the program that they can be successful. I talk to them about my own experiences, what they can expect, and answer any questions they have. It’s actually fun.

At the onset of your dyslexia, how did your parents help you deal with it?
When we first found out I had dyslexia, Mom and Dad found a list of famous people that had or have dyslexia, to show me it was doable. They taught me not to use it as an excuse, but to use it to build my character. My parents are always there when I start to doubt myself. Last spring they told me to hang in and that I would figure it out. Mrs. Rasco was my 4th grade teacher at Houser and she saw my frustration and got the ball rolling. My dyslexia coaches were Mrs. Bradley, Ms. Caves, and Mrs. Japp, and they made dyslexia workable. I have to mention all my teachers but I might leave one out and that would not be fair, because without all of their patience and understanding I wouldn’t have been successful. Finally, my friends. They have my back and that is important to me.

Because of your disability, are you exempt from being declared academically ineligible to play sports?
I haven’t been under the 504 umbrella since midway through my 8th grade year and I have a 3.4 GPA. Don’t get me wrong, TAKS Math still kicks my rear end and the PSAT was really hard for me.

I know it’s early, but have you thought of college and beyond?
Currently I’m in 10th grade. I definitely want to go to college somewhere. My dream is to play Division 1 football. Career, not sure. Maybe coach and teach.

What do you like doing with your free time?
I like playing football, basketball, track, hunting, fishing, and playing  X-Box with my friends on the weekends.

Ladies and Gentlemen, now that’s a great kid!

Comments to Doug Sarant at doug@oakridgenow.com.

For more information on dyslexia and education, contact the folks at the Partners Resource Network.

 

Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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In the Spotlight: The Outspoken Laurin Engle

This week’s In The Spotlight subject came to us via Coach JC Collins of the Oak Ridge girls soccer team. In talking to the Coach a few weeks ago, I informed him that we are always looking for athletes who are outspoken leaders.

That being pointed out, Collins definitely hit the nail on the head with his goalkeeper, Laurin Engle.

Meet Laurin Engle:

Your enthusiasm for anything having to do with Oak Ridge high school is unmatched. Is there anything you don’t like about Oak Ridge?
I love Oak Ridge. I’ve always been treated relatively fairly and had some pretty great teachers along the way. The one thing that bothers me about the high school is the lack of school spirit. Don’t get me wrong, there are many of us kids who have spirit but there’s just too much negativity. Overall spirit is the one thing Oak Ridge lacks. Kids all the time talk about how much we suck. I just don’t get it. I don’t get how you wouldn’t stand behind your school at all costs. Kids who have never been to an Oak Ridge soccer game before will come up to me and say, “So how bad did y’all suck last night?” I just don’t get it. We support the other teams. I just wish that in my time here more people could have been more supportive. You know, maybe we didn’t have the greatest of records but every one us really goes at it with a lot of effort and we are proud to be playing for Oak Ridge High School. After we graduate, I hope that in the future the lack of spirit aspect changes at the school. Whatever sport is being played, all students should get behind the players.

How long have you been playing soccer? What kind of training have you had?
I’ve been playing soccer since I was 4 years old. However, right before high school, I quit in order to swim. Late my freshman year Coach Collins came and found me at Battle of the Bands and asked if I would come out and play for him. (He desperately needed a keeper for the upcoming year.) I accepted, and quit swimming at the same time. Never regretted it since. I’ve never been to a soccer camp, and select soccer is much more serious, much more intense all the time.

Has goalie been the position of choice since you started?
As far as I can remember, I’ve been a goalie. Ever since I was just four and my dad was the coach of the team, I always wanted to play keeper.( Maybe just because it involved less running. :] ) But somewhere around 12 years old, I fell in love with the position. It’s definitely the best position on the field. I’ve always loved the fact that you have to be just a little bit crazy to play goalie. Plus, making a great save is the best feeling in the world … even better than scoring.

Coach JC Collins seems like a real enthusiastic dude. How is your relationship with him?
Ah, Coach Collins and I are pretty tight. We disagree on a lot of things, but there is a lot of respect between us. I think he is a great coach solely on the fact that he just cares SO much. He loves his job and every single one of these girls to no end. Even when I think he might be wrong in the strategy department, he makes up for it in effort. He’s always learning new techniques by reading new studies and making friends with other coaches trying to get information out of them. We make fun of him for being such a social butterfly, but really he is just doing recon work for us.

Is there a coach that has had a major impact on you and is responsible for you continuing to play soccer?
Definitely Coach Collins. For one, if it weren’t for him talking to me at Battle of the Bands, I would’ve never fallen back into the sport. But also, he’s always there after every game whether it’s good or bad. He’s always the one telling me and the rest of the team that we’re going to be okay, that it was just one game, and that we’ll get them back next time. He’s always positive and that definitely rubs off. He’s kept the game fun for us, and I thank him for that.

College plans?
I plan on attending Baylor University this fall (Sic’ Em Bears!) and studying Sports Management. Hopefully I’ll be a sports agent one day.

Future soccer plans?
I will probably play intramural soccer or join an adult league, but I will not play NCAA soccer for Baylor. For a while I wanted to play college ball, but I don’t want my entire college life to be about soccer. I want to enjoy my college live and really glean all the knowledge I can from that place.

Have you lived in Oak Ridge forever? Why do you like it here?
I have lived in Oak Ridge since I was 4. We moved away for 18 months when I was 8, but came right back to the same neighborhood. I’ve always loved the area. It’s got some of that small town appeal, while having all the big town perks.

Do you have any favorite teachers?
Every single one of my teachers this year have been amazing. Between Mr. Wetzel in Economics/Government, Mrs. Cox in English, Mrs. Lee in Anatomy, and Mrs. Hollis in Calculus, they have made a profound impact on my life. They each just absolutely adore the subject they teach and it shows in their classroom. They have made senior year so much more enjoyable. I’ve gotten to the point where I look forward to class just to learn from them.

Have your parents been AWESOME?
I love my parents. They’re definitely the best parents out there. They were strict enough to make me a good person, but now that I’m older they relate to me all the time and we’re able to talk for real. My whole family is amazing. My brother is probably the greatest person ever. (He played soccer for Oak Ridge too, and now goes to UT). The best though is when we’re all together at something like Thanksgiving dinner. The whole family goes crazy. I love it. We’re all so alike, and we all find the same things funny so family gatherings are a blast.

You go 100% at all times on the field. You have a problem with players who don’t?
Oh jeez. That’s definitely hitting home with me. I never understand why people don’t give it their all. I have my days where I goof off, but I really understand that practice is just that. Practice is an opportunity to get better, why not use it? Also, in a game, I never understand it when players give up because they’re losing. Every minute of a game is a chance to give it your all, to prove yourself worthy of playing this sport regardless of the winner. I never stop. We’ve been down in games before 6-0 and that’s when I start playing my hardest. That’s when I realize that it’s time to be done making mistakes and going all out. That’s the time when there is nothing to lose, and the time to go big.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d also like to add that I just love my team. Even when we all argue and fight and no one listens to me, or tries to undermine my authority as captain, I love every single one of them. I’d do anything for them, and they know that. My favorite part about high school sports is that it really doesn’t matter in the long run what your record was or how far you went in the state tournament. What matters is how these kids grow into adulthood and learn discipline, honor, and respect through sports. I’ve watched plenty of players grow up on my team, and I’m sad that I won’t continue to see them grow after this year.

Wait a minute, for a few minutes there, I thought I was interviewing an adult. Come to think of it, I was. Laurin Engle is wise beyond her years and I am proud to call her a friend now. A friend is one that you can ask a question and does not tell you what you want to hear. You’ll always know where you stand with Laurin, she gives you the honest scoop. Brutally honest are two words that describe Engle in a nutshell.

Laurin is awesome and yet another example why the Oak Ridge area is the place to be. Is it any wonder why our community is the fastest growing area in Montgomery County?

Comments to Doug Sarant at doug@oakridgenow.com

 

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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Oak Ridge’s Own Angel in the Outfield

“Who can say for certain. Maybe you’re still here.
I feel you all around me. Your memory’s so clear.”
Josh Groban

On May 11, 2010, Shaun Finley, a former member of the Oak Ridge High School baseball team died in a tragic accident. Tonight, March 1, 2011, a pre-game ceremony was held at the ballfield to retire Shaun’s #24 jersey.

From the moment Shaun’s family was escorted to the pitcher’s mound to begin the ceremony, I held my breath. Would the words spoken to all of the family and friends gathered to honor Shaun’s memory be sufficient to convey just how much his life had impacted those who knew him…particularly those in the baseball program at Oak Ridge High School? Would this tribute add to the treasured memories in their hearts?

Barbara Finley, Shaun’s mother, who rarely if ever missed a game, told me afterwards, “I  don’t know who planned all of this, but it was perfect. I never could have imagined the tribute could be as awesome as it was. Every word brought back memories and happy tears.” I let her know that it was all Coach Scheiner, who, from almost the moment of hearing about Shaun’s tragic accident, had decided to retire Shaun’s #24 jersey at the first varsity home game of the 2011 season.

The ceremony began with Shaun’s mother, Barbara, his father, Dwayne, his sister Kristina, and his Uncle Bob Brown who had driven in from Austin with his wife, Cindy, for the ceremony, taking the field. This was followed by one of the most touching moments of the night. The entire 23-man Oak Ridge High School varsity baseball team walked together out to the mound to present Barbara with a dozen peach roses and 23 hugs. The coach had learned that Shaun had always given his mom peach roses for her birthday. It was only fitting to do so tonight.

My son gave one of those hugs. He initially met Barbara and Shaun when Shaun’s 2001 Little League All-Star team won the District 28 title. My two sons and I followed the team to Waco for the State Tournament and then to Florida for the Regional Tournament. We were so welcomed by the team and the team families. They made my two little boys, 6 and 8 years old, feel pretty special. At the end of their All-Star run, one game short of the Little League World Series, they gave my sons 2 baseballs signed by the team.

Here, tonight, my son was presenting roses to, and hugging the team mom, Shaun’s mom, who had so warmly welcomed him years ago. Here, tonight, my son with his team, had signed a baseball given to Shaun’s father as a tribute to his son.

I was watching more than just hugs on the field. I was watching 23 young men help comfort a family and pay tribute to the life of a special son, brother, nephew and friend.

After the ceremony, Barbara expressed her heartfelt thanks and said “my best part of the evening was my peach roses and the boys. I so miss Shaun’s hugs and kisses. Every time one of the boys hugged me I felt a part of Shaun.”

The theme of Shaun’s tribute,  written by head varsity baseball coach Stacy Scheiner and announced by Doug Sarant, was remembering how much fun Shaun had playing the game of baseball.

“Shaun was the type of player that was as serious about baseball as anyone, but at the same time just being around him made all of his teammates and coaches enjoy the game so much more.

“When you talk about the traits of a team player, you think of the words passion, character and unselfishness. Shaun wore those words at all times. You can add heart as well. One thing that only those real close to Shaun knew is he had to fight through adversity as well. At one point in his high school career, he was suffering from headaches and nosebleeds, but kept playing and blowing it off thinking it was normal. He just couldn’t believe anything could keep him from playing baseball. Finally, it became too much to take and he went to the doctor. What the doctor found was a tumor. Shaun loved the game so much he had been playing with a tumor in his head! Shaun wasn’t going to let this deter him, so he did what the doctors instructed him to do, but worked on his game whenever possible so that when it was time to play again, he was going to be ready.

“When it was time for the District post-season awards, it won’t surprise you then that Shaun Finley was picked to be a co-recipient of the HEART Award.

“It wasn’t just baseball he was good at either. He was good at life. Teachers loved him. Administration loved him. He was nice to his fellow students. Shaun reached us all in various ways and we are all better for having been in contact with him. We just knew that when we all heard he passed away, we were all crushed but because of the kind of person Shaun was, we started thinking of all the good he stood for and how he made our lives more fun. We mourned, but we smiled because we knew we were blessed to have been associated with Shaun. We were touched by an awesome human being and we just knew Shaun was on that stairway to heaven.”

Doug paused while a huge baseball on the outfield wall was unveiled. It reads, “Shaun Finley 24”. Doug continued, “ We know Shaun is looking down now bragging to his new friends about how the left field wall looks a lot better now… we think so too.

“As for the Finleys-this should go without saying, but for as long as you come here, you will be welcomed with open arms and open hearts.”

Shaun’s mom, Barbara, shared with friends, “ I think ORHS now has an angel in the outfield.”

“As my heart holds you, just one beat away, I cherish all you gave me everyday.” – Josh Groban

 

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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