Anyone who ever met Neal McClaugherty remembers him. The FHS Class of 2005 graduate was a Manager for the Girls Basketball team and recipient of the class “Hero Award.”
A quadriplegic with cerebral palsy since birth, Neal attended class in a wheelchair, had an electronic “talker” as his voice and, “There were so many people that helped him along,” said Neal’s dad, Larry.
During his years at Cline, Bales, Westwood, the Junior High and the High School, Larry said, “The whole school embraced him.”
Neal’s mom, Kathy and Larry have collected their thoughts along with those from many of the people who played significant roles in Neal’s life to assemble a book, “Neal: Champion, The Journey: Morning to Afternoon.”
“We’re hoping when you finish the book, you will know him,” said Larry.
It relates the story of when Dena Russo, the Girls Junior Varsity Basketball Coach and one of Neal’s teachers suggested that he attend a basketball game, Neal embraced it. He became more than a spectator, joining the team as a Manager. “He had responsibilities at practices and games. He had duties to perform when he was there,” said Neal’s mom, Kathy. Later, Public Relations was added to Neal’s managerial duties.
Mary Giles was a senior on the Friendswood Girls Basketball team when Head Coach Angela Spurlock included Neal on the team. “I think she knew how beneficial it was for everyone involved with the Lady Mustang program to have Neal be a part of everything,” Giles said. “Mary Giles” is now Mary Wise, and has returned to Friendswood High as the Coach of the Lady Mustangs and an Art Teacher.
The most memorable moment of Neal’s five years with the Lady Mustangs happened at halftime of a game in 2003 and was generated more by academics than athletics. Members of a high school Robotics Class rigged a catapult that would launch a ball from mid-court, allowing Neal a chance at making a shot. After numerous failures and redesigns leading up to the game versus Santa Fe, after the first half, the machine was placed on the gym floor. Neal turned his head, activating a switch…launching the ball…into the air…toward the basket…nothing but net! “It was like we had won a national championship,” Larry said at the time. For the record, the Lady Mustangs won the District Championship that evening, but “the Star of the Night” was Neal. His constant trademark “Triple-Dimpled Smile” was never more prominent.
Neal attended the Prom, participated in friends’ weddings and was part of many other activities until he passed away in 2010.
Copies of “Neal: Champion, The Journey: Morning to Afternoon” are now available (for a donation to the Lady Mustang’s Basketball Program) at games. The website, www.nealchampion.com also has information on how to get a copy and future book signings by the McClaugherty’s.
Donated copies of the book given to the FISD Superintendent Trish Hanks have been distributed to each school library and the Special Education and Athletics departments. Hanks recently visited with the Lady Mustangs about the significance they can make in a student and family’s life through genuine inclusion.
Throughout the District, Neal’s story in print is an inspirational tool for teachers, students and parents.
School Board members also received a copy. “This is a very heartfelt endeavor,” said Dr. Rebecca Hillenburg, Board President, upon receiving her book. “This is a very sweet, loving story, from many perspectives.”