Teammates knew Stone was a ‘rock’
It seems much longer than five-and-a-half months ago that the bad news spread: Tonganoxie High senior Austin Stone was in a coma after a routine visit to the dentist.
On Thursday, it was incredible to see how much progress Stone had made in what has actually been a short amount of time.
At a special THS event that principal Jamie Carlisle called more “homecoming ceremony” than commencement, Stone, now blind and hard of hearing, walked across the stage with his dad, Lance, at his side and received his high school diploma.
It was a touching, amazing moment.
Some thought Stone would never function properly again. His former 4x400 relay teammates couldn’t be counted in that group.
Bret Koch, DJ Lindsay and Jeremy Carlisle — who often can be spotted in their “Team Stone” T-shirts — knew of Stone’s toughness, his fight, before he slipped into a coma. They knew he had what it took to recuperate and persevere.
On Thursday, the entire THS student body, faculty and members of the community got to see what Team Stone, his friends, knew all along.
“He’s a rock,” Lindsay said.
“His last name says it all,” chimed in Carlisle. “He’s just a Stone.”
No one looked forward to this day more than the close-knit teammates who had long admired Stone and won a Class 4A 4x400 state championship in his honor this past May.
They had visited him in his Lincoln, Neb., rehabilitation center. They saw him rail thin, unable to communicate. They had witnessed his incomparable attitude in the face of adversity. And, eventually, they saw him walk and talk and joke. Just like old times.
“The first time we went and saw him,” Lindsay recalled, “the transition from then to the last time we went up to Nebraska was amazing.”
It was then that they officially got their friend back. Koch, Lindsay, Carlisle and David Powell, who ran in Stone’s place for THS, were walking Stone through the facility’s hallways.
“All of the sudden, he just starts grabbin’ his stomach and he’s like in pain,” Carlisle said.
Nurses came running over to assist Stone.
“We were freaking out because we don’t know what’s happening,” Carlisle said.
Then Stone raised back up with a wide grin on his face.
“Just kidding,” he said.
His buddies loved it. It cheered them up (though it slightly agitated the nurses). It was the kind of thing they expected from Stone — always caring more about others than himself.
Such was the case on Thursday, when he asked his three teammates to stand and be recognized during his unique graduation program.
“I want all of you guys to look around and if you haven’t met these guys, walk up to them in the hallways and shake their hands because they’re a great group of guys,” Stone said before joking that Lindsay is “a little weird sometimes.”
“I was on the verge of tears and then he cracked that joke,” Lindsay said, acknowledging that Stone lifted his spirits. “He never quits crackin’ jokes.”
Koch marveled at Stone’s selflessness, indicating he and his teammates were honored to be included in a ceremony that was really all about Stone.
“It just shows the character that Austin has,” Koch said. “It was supposed to be about him and he turned it on everyone else and made it about everyone.”
Thanks to an astounding, young “rock” of a man, it was a day no one in attendance will ever forget.