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Hitting the right note
Despite limitations, two boys find joy, acceptance in JCD marching band

Mary Mattingly

For 50 minutes every day of band class at Jac-Cen-Del, 7th grader Mike Gray and 8th grader Alex Fuqua become just like any other student in the school. They pick up their instruments, a baritone horn for Mike, and a trumpet for Alex, and practice with the band under the direction of Glenn Unklesbay. It’s a big deal because these two students have physical handicaps, limitations that make them different from most of their peers. And different is the last thing any teenager wants to be.

Pictured left, Alex Fuqua is pushed in the wheelchair by his good friend’s father, David Johnson at the Reds Opening Day parade last Monday.

“It’s one of the classes that doesn’t matter if you have a disability,” Mike Gray says. He was born with a bone and joint disorder, which curls his hands. Underneath his jeans he has full leg braces to help him walk, and underneath his shirt, some 21 scars from 16 surgeries. “I was supposed to be in a wheelchair permanently by third grade, but I keep plugging along,” he says with a smile. The son of Mike and Tami Gray (Mama T as he affectionately calls his step-mother), he has accepted that there is no cure for his congenital ailment, called arthrogryposis.

Alex, who has Perthes disease, doesn’t have as obvious physical handicaps, but adds, “That was supposed to happen to me too. I would have been crippled my entire life if I had not had surgery when I was 10.” The youngest child of Chandra and Jim Fuqua, he has had four surgeries since then to repair his crumbling hips, and looks forward to a hip replacement when he stops growing. Unbeknowst to his parents, he walked on a broken leg for a year and had a chiropractor not caught what was wrong, he wouldn’t be walking the halls at JCD. Both boys are “super troopers,” as their parents and band director say, rarely complaining, and just fun to be around.

The two JCD students talked to Ripley Publishing recently about their handicaps; not so much about what they can’t do, but what they can. Alex, for example, was part of the JCD’s performance at the Reds Opening Day parade April 6. The fact that he can’t march for long distances without pain does not keep him from being part of the high school band. He can play the trumpet quite well from a wheelchair, but he does need someone to push him if the band is in a long parade. That has not been a problem for the band, until last Monday morning. Ten minutes before the band was scheduled to leave for the Reds parade the director learns the student who pushes Alex has dropped out of school. Unklesbay asks the band students for help, and they started calling and texting parents. Enter David Johnson, father of Alex’s good friend Riley. He volunteered to be the legs, so to speak for Alex. Johnson was in the parade already as part of the Knights of Columbus float, and it worked out that he could do both; push Alex in the wheelchair and jump back on the Kof C float.

Pictured left, Mike Gray shows how he holds the baritone horn sideways and positions his thumbs or fingers to hold notes.

It’s not the first time the band has had handicapped students. “We just do it,” Unklesbay says rather nonchalantly. He is proud of his students, not just for the music they play, but for who they are, and how they treat people. And it doesn’t cross his mind to treat Mike or Alex any differently. “That’s the way it is at this school,” the 13 year band director noted. “I imagine some might pick on these guys, but not many and it doesn’t happen in the band at all. They are accepted as one of them.”

The two boys agree. Band is a release from the occasional tease or reminder of what they can’t do, like run, bike or play sports. “Mr. Unklesbay is like a second father to me. If I have hard times, I talk to him and he helps me. They are just more accepting in the band, and take you for who you are. They don’t look at you like you have a disability. You’re one of them,” says Mike. Alex adds, “I love being in the band. I just like all the jokes, and hanging with my friends. It’s like a big family.”

Oh, and there is the music part of it too. Mike hopes he masters the baritone horn so well it will help get him in college, and in the meantime is also learning to play acoustic and electric guitar (using a slide). Tami Gray says he’s always loved music, so the band was a natural fit. Nonetheless, she has high praise for Unklesbay for his willingness to work with all kids. “It’s a huge deal to Mike. He likes it and just to have the opportunity, we are grateful.” In addition to trumpet, Alex wants to learn drums and bass guitar. Unklesbay expects both to continue in the band through high school. He comments, “Neither one of them would have any luck at athletics because of their disabilities. So they’re looking for a place to be and we are that.” Mike would love to play baseball, and Alex, basketball. Football would be fun too. All are out, but Alex could maybe golf, he said; Mike likes to putt around with golf at home. Going short distances, like the parade at Disney with the JCD band, is possible for Alex alone; 1-3 mile parades like Opening Day is not. His mom actually pushed him on the Indy 500 track last summer for a band performance for 2 ½ miles, which was hard because it was hot and the racetrack slopes to the center.

They’re both glad they found the band, or it found them. JCD is one of the few schools that has every 5th grade student take band class. “That’s why we’re four times the size of everyone,” Unklesbay said. They have 70 students in the high school band, more than Batesville and East Central, with a much smaller student population. “They can try it for a year until they find an instrument they like and then audition in the sixth grade.” Mike holds the baritone sideways and can use his thumbs to hold the notes. He is looking forward to 8th grade so he can join in on the fun band activities, like the Reds parade. Alex might need a wheel-chair for next year too when they march in the Versailles Pumpkin Show parade or Aurora Farmer’s Fair parade, or UC homecoming parade. Varsity basketball games won’t be a problem though. In the meantime, the two boys will keep practicing music. Mike would like to join the marines to serve his country, but knows his handicap will keep him from it. He has a bit of advice for the people who are blessed without physical handicaps: Don’t stare at those who do. “I get that a lot. ‘Boy, look at those handicapped people over there. They are different from us. They walk funny. ‘ But when they get to know us, they find out we are not different, we just look different.”

Local Bulletin Board

Deadline: April 18, 2016

Dearborn County Hospital accepting scholarship applications
The Dearborn County Hospital Foundation is now accepting applications for its High School Senior Scholarship Program for the 2016-2017 school year. Scholarships of $500 each are presented by the DCH Foundation High School Senior Scholarship Program to area seniors who will be pursuing healthcare careers after graduation. To read the entire article, read page 6 of the Osgood Journal dated March 22.

Deadline: April 30, 2016
Tarter-Crum trusts applications accepted
Applications for donations from the Frank Tarter Community Trust and the Ray Herman and Louise Herman Crum Community Trust may be submitted by tax exempt organizations from the Osgood and the surrounding area. Due to IRS regulations, only non-profit organizations are eligible to receive funds from the trust. For more details read the front page of the Osgood Journal dated April 12.

Deadline: May 3
Cross Plains Community grant requests
The Cross Plains Community Granting Committee will meet Thursday, May 5 at 6 p.m. at the Cross Plains Methodist Church to review grant requests. The meeting is open to the public. Any non profit organization including cemetaries within the Cross Plains zip code can request a grant from the Cross Plains Community Granting Fund, which is an endowment fund with the Ripley Co. Community Foundation. See more information on the front page of the Osgood Journal dated April 12.

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