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Kids recognized for overcoming obstacles, inspiring others

Coach Jim Johnson speaks to the group of gathered students. HTC honored 50 students representing all Horry County Schools who have proven themselves through scholastic, athletic and community achievements during the 16th Annual REEL Kids Awards held Thursday at the Marriott Resort & Spa at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach.
Coach Jim Johnson speaks to the group of gathered students. HTC honored 50 students representing all Horry County Schools who have proven themselves through scholastic, athletic and community achievements during the 16th Annual REEL Kids Awards held Thursday at the Marriott Resort & Spa at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach. For The Sun News

Students who have overcome obstacles to inspire others were honored this week at an annual awards program.

The Recognizing Extraordinary Examples of Leadership (REEL) program spotlights students who are overcoming serious obstacles in their lives, and managing to be leaders, making good grades and participating in school activities.

Mike Hagg – executive director of Horry Telephone Cooperative, which sponsors the awards – placed REEL Kids medallions around the necks of the 50 students recognized during the ceremony Thursday at the Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort and Spa at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach. He told the group of kids that he would never forget them.

“Thank you for sharing with us because you make us better people,” he said.

Thank you for sharing with us because you make us better people.

HTC’s Executive Director Mike Hagg

Some of the kids went to the podium in wheelchairs, walking on prosthetic legs, with chemotherapy ports beneath their clothes or exhibiting other handicaps that can be seen. Others went with strong bodies carrying wounded hearts and lives.

Three special awards were given in memory of REEL Kids who lost their lives to some form of cancer. The Meagan Conner Award was created in honor of a senior at Loris High School, selected as a REEL Kid in the first year of the HTC REEL Kids program in 2000, but was unable to attend the ceremony and died a few months later. The award, for strength of character, determination and duration of perseverance, was given to Lonnie McCracken, a junior at Green Sea Floyds High School.

Taylor McKinney, who was a Waccamaw Elementary School fifth grader, was selected as a 2005 REEL Kid, but lost her fight with leukemia prior to the ceremony that year. Taylor McKinney Award for courage went to both Kayla Herbel, a senior at Academy for Arts, Science and Technology, and Sierra Strickland, an eighth grader at Whittemore Park Middle School.

John Lucsko, a Burgess Elementary School fifth grader and a 2016 REEL Kid, lost his battle with cancer in April. His parents, Bill and Stephanie Lucsko, received a Dove Trophy in memory of their son, and the first John Lucsco Award went to Acie Catron, a ninth grader at Aynor High School.

The Rodney C. Hardee Memorial Scholarship for $750 went to Elias Martinez Reyes, a senior at Myrtle Beach High School. Hardee, public works director and assistant fire chief in Loris, died in 2013.

Horry Georgetown Technical College Presidential Scholarships of $500 per semester for two years were given to Mayia Bellamy of the Academy for Technology and Academics, Ashley Valazquez of Carolina Forest High, Aaron Beall of Conway High and Chris Coleman of North Myrtle Beach High.

The Ken Summerall Mentoring Award, given in memory of HTC’s late president, and the only award that does not go to a student, was presented to Donald Durham, a teacher at River Oaks Elementary. James Kriebel, a fifth grader and a REEL Kid nominated by Durham, called him up to receive his award. Kriebel also talked about Durham’s impact on his life during his video interview.

On top of other troubles, Kriebel’ father separated from the family. Kriebel met Durham in the fourth grade during Durham’s internship, and Kriebel wasn’t feeling very positive about life. “I was just thinking I wouldn’t get to see my father again, and I wouldn’t have anybody to lead me,” he said.

Kriebel said Durham showed him things he needed to know, and now he sees a better future for himself.

Durham said he and Kriebel had a long talk about persistence and complacency. “I still do not believe it was that talk, but something in James’ head and heart that sparked a heated fire and love for learning,” Durham said.

The guest speaker was Coach Jim Johnson, the author of “A Coach and a Miracle – Life Lessons From a man who Believed in an Autistic Boy.” Jason McElwain, the boy he wrote about, now an assistant coach with Johnson at Greece Athena High School in Rochester, N.Y., also spoke to the students, telling them to dream about what they want to become, because if you don’t dream it, you won’t be it.

Nicole Hyman, HTC’s senior marketing coordinator, served as mistress of ceremonies and had previously interviewed each student. Those interviews will run on HTC’s Channel 4.

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