Shannon D. Lucas played football during his middle school days.
He was quite good at it.
However, his competitive football tenure was short-lived, in large part because of an assortment of injuries.
So much, in fact, that Lucas sensed that playing football in the high school ranks would not be in his best interest.
“The reason I stopped was because I had three injuries during the season,” Lucas told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “Afterward, I went on to realize that doing so in high school would be much harder for me. I wanted to focus on actually finishing high school, not missing days in the hospital, and missing assignments. That was an Achilles Heel that I couldn’t afford to carry.”
With football all but a distant memory, Lucas was determined to make good of what appeared to be discouraging ordeal.
To his credit, he did just that.
The 17-year-old Memphian recently was among 153 individuals who were awarded diplomas during Fairley High’s final commencement exercises as a part of the Shelby County Public Schools system. For Lucas, while learning that Fairley will no longer be a public institution for inner city children in the Whitehaven community was a bittersweet moment as he sat among his classmates, among his fondest memories, he said, will be how he went about erasing the memories of the trials he endured as middle school athlete.
In a nutshell, Lucas wasn’t just a recipient of a diploma. He graduated with honors.
“My memories travel back all the way to when I first stepped foot into Fairley as a freshman with everyone else,” Lucas explained. “We didn’t know who anyone was, we didn’t know where we were, or were to go. It was like we were lost in a deep jungle. Then as we entered our senior year, everything seemed so old. We even felt old when we saw the newbie freshmen coming in. All we could think was, ‘We were never that bad as freshman!’”
During Fairley’s graduation ceremony before an overflow crowd in Memphis’ historic Orpheum Theatre in the heart of downtown, among those who were enthralled and sat nearly on the edge of her seat near the stage was Lucas’ mother, LaTonya McKinney.
To get a thorough understanding of why McKinney, a Coldwater, Miss. native, was brought to tears before her son’s name was called throughout the loudspeakers to receive his diploma, look no further the events that swarmed her life roughly eight years ago.
In 2006, McKinney was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Such news was a devastating blow for McKinney, whose twin sister, LaSonya Thomas, was diagnosed with the same dreaded disease approximately three years later.
“I didn’t have a response at all,” said McKinney, explaining her initial reaction during an October 2012 interview with MemphiSport. “I didn’t know how to respond, didn’t feel any anger. It was just some information that was given to me. My mom came over and then asked me if I wanted to cry. But I didn’t feel like crying.”
Today, however, McKinney and her twin — who were born approximately five minutes apart — are years removed from having gone into remission from breast cancer, a life-altering occurrence that made Lucas’s graduation day more of a celebratory occasion for his mother.
“It did cross my mind,” said McKinney, when asked if she thought she might not live to witness her son’s graduation. “But I quickly took that out of my head because I am a believer in God. My mother was my rock in my battle with cancer and she took really good care of me.”
Lucas, meanwhile, admits that because his mother fought vigorously to beat her battle with breast cancer, the poise she exhibited enabled him to establish a solid work ethic, particularly at an institution where the student body’s overall performance in the classroom had become an issue with state officials.
In other words, Lucas steadfastly defied the odds, erasing the memory — at least for a short while — of the upcoming closing of historic Fairley High.
Next up: He’s off to the University of Memphis this fall on an academic scholarship.
“I am highly disappointed that my school is closing,” Lucas said. “Imagine, in the class of 2014 lies that last true blood Bulldogs of Fairley High School. The final O.B.’s (original bulldogs) are out of the building, and now the school that we all grow up together in will now seize to exist as we know it.”
Regardless, that doesn’t merely compare to the graduation memories his mother will forever cherish — memories she witnessed unfold close and upfront in the historic Orpheum Theatre.
So much for football.
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at email@example.com. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.