PORT ALLEN, La. (WAFB) - To just about everyone in the stands or on the field, this game is just another high school Friday night under the lights, but for Dunham teacher and coach, Mike Jenkins, and Port Allen High School student, Aryanna Porter, the rival game is a reunion beyond the boundary line.
“I saw the piece you did towards the end of the school year on Aryanna,” said Jenkins “When I saw Aryanna’s story, I was like, ‘Oh man, this is an independent gal.’ She never quits. She’s going to live life to the fullest. She was on the dance team, the cheerleading squad, she’s doing shoot, I’m like, ‘This is the gal.’”
It reminded him of the spirit of another independent gal.
“To show you how independent she was, when I talked about getting an engagement ring, she said, ‘I don’t want one.' She said, 'You’re either married or not.’ She said, ‘I’m not worried about being engaged’ and she told me she wanted to keep her name and I was like, ‘I’m not marrying you for your name’ and her mom and grandmother kind of blew a gasket on that and so the hyphenated last name of Wallace-Jenkins was their compromise,” he explained.
Sharon Faye Wallace-Jenkins is Mike’s wife. Their love story began in Austin, Texas.
“Her eyes sparkled. She had a great smile," Jenkins said. "She was kinda’ quiet, could be introverted at some times, but once you got to know her, she was very outgoing, loving, and caring and I mean, we just hit it off.”
Mike and Sharon moved their life to Baton Rouge and had two sons, Calip and Wally. Sharon was eventually diagnosed with polymyositis in 1990. It’s a rare condition that weakens the body’s muscles over time.
“She always bragged that she walked Disney World in 1999 and then slowly her muscles deteriorated because of the disease and she started using a cane and a walker in the early 2000s," he said.
Sharon squeezed every ounce out of life even throughout her diagnosis.
“She lived life to the fullest," explained Jenkins. "We went to the Sugar Bowl on January 1st. She loved that her Longhorns beat Georgia because that’s kind of a family rivalry. We’ve got Wally, our son in Georgia, he’s been a Georgia fan forever and well, Calip has followed in mom’s footsteps.”
Sharon passed away in March, but her memory and spirit live on through Mike.
“I share Sharon. I tell everybody, every time I get a little sad, I think about something good that we did together, some adventure that we had and she was, Sharon was so giving and I want to celebrate her. Celebrate Sharon, that’s my phrase, celebrate Sharon," Mike said.
That’s exactly what Mike did when he found out about Aryanna. He donated Sharon’s power wheelchair to her. Aryanna is now a senior at Port Allen High School. She was diagnosed with dermatomyositis and had her leg amputated when she was just 8-years-old.
“That’s what really caught my attention is that Aryanna wasn’t letting this slow her down," Jenkin said. "I mean, she may not do it as well as somebody without the disease, but she hasn’t let it slow her down. She is attacking life and to me, that was the common thread between the two, and that’s why Sharon would be so excited that Aryanna has the chair and she can go with it.”
That’s when Mike reached out to Port Allen High School’s principal, James Jackson.
“He took a tremendous tragedy losing his wife and tried to honor her legacy by continuing to give and give back to others and he quickly struck me as someone who is just a great person," Jackson said. "Just to have a front row seat of seeing someone just give so much of themselves to someone who was a complete stranger was just awesome.”
So when it came time for Dunham to play Port Allen, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to celebrate while overcoming tragedy in the game of life.