CHAPEL HILL – The North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) presented four individuals with Tony Simeon Courage Awards at the Association's Annual Meeting on May 2, 2019 at the Dean Smith Center. The Tony Simeon Courage Awards are designed to honor individuals who, despite adversity, have demonstrated exemplary character and performance and, as a result, have been an inspiration to all those involved with the programs of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. They are named in honor of NCHSAA Hall of Famer Tony Simeon, a long-time coach at High Point Central. This year, Courage Awards were given to four individuals: Jason Norton from Pine Forest High School, Lee Spruill from Cape Fear High School, Timothy Decatur from Rosewood High School, and Tyler Bova from Trinity High School.
ABOUT THE RECIPIENTS
Tyler Bova – Trinity High School
Tyler Bova is a student at Trinity High School, but on June 19, 2018 in Utah, Bova’s life was forever changed. The vehicle Tyler, his parents and little brother were traveling in was struck in a head-on collision that claimed the lives of his whole family and left Tyler fighting for his own life. Tyler was taken to Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City and given just a small chance to survive the wreck himself. He sustained multiple injuries to his face, arms, spine, legs and suffered severe internal injuries. He underwent multiple surgeries to repair all of these issues and doctors feared he may never walk again. Tyler was kept sedated to help with his pain and try to keep a lower body temperature to help the chances of recovery. Tyler had surgeries to correct an aortic tear, fasciotomy on both legs, another surgery to close his abdomen, had a chest tube and staples removed from a thoracotomy to keep him alive, facial reconstruction surgery involving 3 plates to do the procedure, and spinal surgery all within the course of three weeks.
On July 5, 2018 doctors were able to remove him from the ventilator that had kept him alive, and on July 10th, Tyler was finally able to take a short ride in a wheelchair. After the accident, friends and family back in Trinity and the surrounding area began the “Built Tyler Tough/Bova Strong Movements” raising money for the family and showing their support for Tyler with bracelets, T-Shirts and many more items. Hundreds showed up from the community to support Tyler in his battle and his football teammates were able to facetime with him from his hospital room on July 13.
Tyler began a long battle with physical therapy and issues eating that had caused him to lose weight. He was in physical and speech therapy as he tried to relearn many skills we take for granted daily and underwent another surgical procedure on July 16. Six weeks after the accident and three weeks after the ventilator was removed, on August 1, Tyler had endured 17 surgeries and was continuing to improve. A week later, physical therapists were able to assist him in walking with a walker. Trinity football dedicated their first home game to Tyler, trying to lift his spirits, he underwent another surgery two days later. Over the next few weeks, Tyler improved enough to where doctors felt he could be transported back home to live with his grandmother from New York who was moving to North Carolina to be with him.
Tyler made it back home on September 13, beating the odds, he was greeted by friends and family at the airport and began working with doctors and physical therapists and his baseball coach Ryan Spencer. Tyler fought hard through the process, and at the end of November and beginning of December was able to walk on his own again without the aid of a cane or walker. He returned to classes on January 24 after taking classes online during the first semester. On February 1, Tyler was named the “Coming Home King” at a Basketball game. He began the season as a manager on the baseball team, at every practice and helping the team with anything as asked. He had another procedure, number 20, on February 25th and was back with the team quickly. On April 11, 2019, Tyler Bova returned to the baseball diamond, pitching for the first time since the accident, throwing 59 pitches in a 13-0 win over T.W. Andrews.
Timothy Decatur – Rosewood High School
Timothy Decatur is a senior student from a senior from Rosewood High School. After a less than ideal start to his life in terms of stability and care, his grandparents were able to gain custody after a long legal battle. Early on it was evident that Timothy loved sports and had a desire to compete, despite his small stature. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of Autism, when he was young that affects the development of many basic skills, mostly the inability to socialize or communicate with others in a social or cooperative setting. Doctors and experts warned the family Timothy would have a hard time socially and his behaviors may worsen over time and make academics increasingly difficult. They also told him that he would have physical limitations that would prevent him from playing sports, which is something that he had come to depend on for joy fulfillment and social interaction.
Later doctors came to find out that Timothy was completely blind in his left eye. Despite having no depth perception, Timothy wanted to try baseball when he was eight. After a year in the outfield and as a mostly bench player, his determination and one-track mindset him to work as hard as ever to earn playing time. He took lessons over the summer, working on the infield and pitching. When he asked the coach the following season to try pitching, the coach gave him a shot, despite snickers from some on the team, and in his first game on the mound, he threw a no-hitter. That season, he went on to become a major contributor to the team and was chosen to pitch for the under 10 all-stars.
Despite being small in size, he decided to try football, and a similar story unfolded, as gradually Timothy became a player the coaches relied on for leadership roles on the field. This led him to try wrestling when he came to high school and it was there he found his true sports love. His coach said this of him, “He took to the sport with ease and dedicated himself to bettering his skills and the skills of the wrestlers around him. He even dedicated his time and effort to the Rosewood Little Eagles wrestling program, teaching skill and strategy while serving as a mentor for these young wrestlers while they gained a foothold in the sport he loved.” He also served as a mentor and coach in the Police Athletic League Wrestling program, where he taught underprivileged youth about the skills of wrestling and used the sport to teach life lessons of teamwork, determination and perseverance. Lessons he had to learn through tough experiences, a rocky childhood and a career of obstacles and adversity.
He continues to give back. He is a multi-year and multi-classification state champion, a nationally ranked and renowned wrestler and will continue his wrestling career at the collegiate level with UNC in the fall.
Lee Spruill – Cape Fear High School
Lee Spruill, Principal of Cape Fear High School, underwent open heart surgery to have a heart valve replaced in the spring of 2018. He scheduled his surgery to return to Cape Fear for Graduation. Shortly after his return to work Lee developed high fevers and was admitted to UNC Hospitals to determine what was causing his sickness. After over a week of observation, a second open heart surgery was performed. Thankfully, the illness presented itself because when surgery was performed surgeons discovered a quarter-sized aneurysm that had developed. Typically, aneurysms do not cause other illnesses.
Fortunately for Lee, his family, and Cape Fear High School, the medical team was able to repair the aneurysm and Lee is back to full-time work at his post at Cape Fear, celebrating the many successes of students, coaches, administrators, and member schools across the state. As a former coach, athletic director, and current conference president, Lee understands and values the positive impact on education-based athletics have on both a school and the community it serves. He is a tremendous role model and example to his students, teachers and fellow administrators, a truly courageous and sacrificial servant of his fellow man.
Jason Norton – Pine Forest High School
Jason Norton is the athletic director at Pine Forest High School in Cumberland County. In January of 2017, Norton was diagnosed with stage three B colorectal cancer. There was also a legion on his liver. Beginning late that month, Norton underwent 28 days of radiation and took 8 chemotherapy pills per day to shrink the tumor. In May, Norton had surgery to do a total lower resection of his intestinal tract and had 20 lymph nodes removed, spending four days in the hospital in Chapel Hill, and dealing with an ileostomy bag for the next 7 months. From June through September of 2017, Norton went through six rounds of chemo by port every three weeks, taking eight chemo pills per day for two weeks at a time with one-week rest between those treatments. In December, doctors were able to do corrective surgery to remove the ileostomy and reattach the colon. He spent another three days in the hospital following that procedure.
At a check in August of 2018, scans showed that the spot on his liver had doubled in size, he soon met with a liver specialist in Chapel Hill and was informed that the spot on his liver was in fact cancer. Then in October, he underwent surgery to remove 65% of his liver and his gall bladder. He spent 14 days in the hospital recovering from surgery. During the stay, he endured two blood transfusions, two plasma transfusions and a CT Scan to insert a tube between his ribs and drain excess fluid from around his liver. After all the work of doctors and difficulty, finally, in January of 2019, after a CT Scan showed no signs of cancer, Coach Jason Norton was declared cancer free. During this time, Norton continued his work as Athletic Director at Pine Forest and relied on the strength of his team and family to push him through a difficult journey, fighting cancer.