Ending the 2013-2014 school year was supposed to be exciting. For most students, it was the beginning of summer and the eventual promise of being one year closer to graduation.
For a rising junior at North Lincoln High School named Simon Oaida, the year ended with the harsh reality that he was in for a fight. He was diagnosed in late May with stage 4 osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer that is the sixth most common cancer in children.
Oaida was an integral part of the band, a baritone player in the wind ensemble. Because of the fight that was ahead of him, he was going to miss the peer interaction and the special kind of bond that can only be forged in hallways that are lined with lockers. Oaida still enrolled full-time for his junior year, but was set up as a homebound student. One of his teachers takes his work to him every day. She helps him with his studies, then reports back how he is doing, both education- and health-wise.
After hearing that Oaida was more than a little down about his condition, Principal Mitch Sherrill knew he needed to rally the troops.
Calling an assembly on Aug. 28, the first Wednesday of the new school year, Sherrill informed the
student body of Oaida’s diagnosis. The entire school responded by making a video, letting Oaida know how much they missed him and how ready they were for him to come back.
“I can’t take credit for that,” Sherrill said. “That’s the kids. The cheering and the emotions that they showed…they have been building on that.”
Students rallied in a big way, and began to collect donations for Oaida and his family, knowing that any and all financial assistance that could be given was appreciated and very much needed.
“So they (the students) raised the money on Thursday, the day after the pep rally for Simon,” Sherrill said. “Friday, his two sisters came in, I was able to give them $450 in cash to help out.”
The money wasn’t checks or big bills, rather the donation jars were full of change and one dollar bills with a few fives and 10s thrown in.
“So many kids were generating compassion,” Sherrill said. “And they didn’t want to stop there.”
A donation jar is set up during each lunch period to collect for Oaida and his family, but even with the constant outpouring of generosity coming from the teenagers, the student body still felt that they weren’t doing enough.
Sherrill met with Oaida’s sisters and spoke to them about t-shirts they were making in an effort to raise money for the family. Rather than see them expend funds that could be used to help in Oaida’s care, the school decided to pay for the t-shirts and bracelets that will be sold at the upcoming North Lincoln-East Lincoln football game on Friday. “Pray for Simon” will be emblazoned across the front of the shirts and on the bracelets.
“We can do a ‘Pray for Simon’ shirt because it’s not telling anyone how to pray,” Sherrill said. “Just pray for Simon.”
The awareness juggernaut didn’t stop with t-shirts and awareness bracelets. A group of students approached Sherrill and asked if they could host a bake sale, with all proceeds going to Oaida’s family. Joanna Underwood, theatre teacher at North Lincoln High School, has taken the helm of the effort and the bake sale will be held at the Friday football game as well.
With increasing criticism that younger generations are far too absorbed with social media and selfies, efforts like those of the North Lincoln student body are diamonds in the rough, but the love his fellow classmates are showing Oaida is not the first time the Knights have rallied around a good cause.
East Lincoln High School student Miranda Eckerd was an honorary guest at North Lincoln High School’s 2013 prom, after several students approached Sherrill, asking if they could invite her. Eckerd lost her battle with cancer in July of 2013. The prior year, a West Iredell soccer player was diagnosed with cancer and rigorous fundraising efforts among the student body allowed the Knights to present the young man with financial assistance to help his family during his treatment.
Though paying it forward is not officially in the curriculum, it seems to be a current that runs fast and deep through the halls of North Lincoln High School.
“Our kids didn’t know that student,” Sherrill said. “But they knew that there was a person in need that they could impact and could show what we are about at North Lincoln, that we are going to take care of any one that needs help, any way possibly we can.” The student from West Iredell has since been in remission but was recently told that his cancer came back. The North Lincoln response? To do a joint fundraiser for Oaida and the West Iredell student when they face off on the football field later this season.
Sherrill has over 900 kids and he beams with pride when he talks about how much of a difference they are making.
“We are going to keep this going,” Sherrill said. “Until Simon is back in class and walking the halls again. T-shirts, wrist bands, donations, everything we can do.”
Oaida is greatly missed by all of his classmates and the faculty that know him are anxious and eager for him to come back.
“We miss him,” Neil Underwood, band director said. “We are ready for him to come back. He’s such a great kid.”
Sherrill maintains and wants to make it clear that though he gives the thumbs up on extra awareness activities, he isn’t the driving force behind the goodwill and sense of community that is thriving among his students.
“It’s the kids and the teachers that are doing this,” Sherrill said. “All these ideas and what to do. I am proud of our students and our community, because it’s parents, local churches, local businesses. I have lived in this community all my life. I’ve had the privilege to work at all of our high schools and the School of Technology, plus the county offices and I can say that everywhere I’ve been, kids have been compassionate, but here, the outreach that they show is phenomenal. “And (Oaida is) making a difference, even though he’s not walking our hallways,” Sherrill said