Two Bay High graduates likely taught as much as they learned during their years at the school.
Brent Anderson received the Inspirational Tiger Award at senior awards. Clarence Kennedy was honored for having the Heart of a Tiger. Thursday, they’ll get their diplomas with 123 other seniors at the Bay High football field.
“Brent has been an inspiration to get to know and love during his time here at Bay High,” Amy Coyne, Bay High principal, said. “He inspires every one of us to be better people every day.”
Brent wasn’t expected to live to see kindergarten. He was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, a genetic disorder that threatened his life and left him with a host of physical challenges. His size, for example. He’s about 4 feet tall and weighs just less than 70 pounds. And he doesn’t talk.
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But his stepmother and his teacher say in all other respects he is a typical teenager. His fellow students quickly learned to look past his atypical appearance.
“At first, kids don’t know how to respond,” said Liz Bosarge, his teacher. “But Bay High kids are awesome. They’re very understanding, very caring.”
Brent can be something of a whirlwind, she said, even though he’s virtually a child in a sea of young adults on the Bay High campus.
“Sometimes, I feel like tying a flag on him, so I can spot him in the crowd,” she said. “He may be small, but he drags the other kids around. And the kids say, ‘If you’re looking for Brent, there he goes.”
Best part of graduation
As Brent doesn’t talk, his stepmother, Maureen Anderson said, no one is sure how much he understands about graduation.
“We know when he’s happy, when he’s sad, angry and mad,” she said. “As mom, I can tell you, just being a teenager and being able to be told for the first time in your life, ‘Lay in bed until you’re ready to get up, eat all day and do nothing’ — I know he’s excited.”
He’s a rarity among children so severely affected by the syndrome, she said, because he’s so mobile.
“He likes to be hugged and touched and loved,” she said of her son, the oldest of four siblings. “Most children like that would probably prefer to stay unsocial.”
Brent, though, likes to be the center of attention.
“He’s fun,” she said. “He’s a fun kid and the teacher there at that high school is so amazing. She taught those children to be comfortable, to touch him. It’s a little intimidating for someone who hasn’t been around a special-needs child. Liz, his teacher, would let him walk a good hundred feet ahead and she’d say, ‘Grab him, stop him and make him come here.’ So she got all those kids comfortable with him.”
School, she said, “has been a wonderful thing.
“We’re excited he’s gotten this far and (his classmates are) sad to see him go. They’ve been so supportive and compassionate.”
The football star
Bosarge also teaches Clarence Kennedy, a teen with Down Syndrome, who like Brent, is a very active member of the student body. He’s been a member of the football team for three years.
Sun Herald sports reporter Patrick Ochs and photographer John Fitzhugh first covered Clarence’s exploits in 2014.
He’s just one of the guys at Bay High, Ochs wrote; a football player and Mr. Popular.
“That’s just how he is,” assistant coach Trevor Adam said. “It’s uplifting. You get him to smile and he gets you to smile. You just can’t help it.
“That’s one of the hard parts about having to correct him — keeping a straight face.”
Clarence finally had the game of his dreams last fall when he scored two touchdowns in a youth game.
“Oh Lord, I teared up trying to film it,” his mother said, pausing momentarily. “As I’m telling folks, I’m very teary-eyed and everybody’s like, ‘Don’t feel bad. I am, too!’ ”
Bosarge said Clarence does not have “senioritis.” She had told him he could take the rest of the days off and come back for graduation.
“Oh, no,” he said. “I’ll be here.”
Principal Coyne said Clarence “lights up a room with his presence.”
“He has the biggest heart of anyone and has touched everyone at our school,” she said.
So it will be a bittersweet moment for her and Bosarge when Brent and Clarence cross the stage at graduation.
“It is two blessings to be around them,” Bosarge said. “The students, I believe, have learned a lot from them. I know I have.
“I’ll be bawling my eyes out.”