Students recognized for turnaround
While Madras High School students didn't get to finish out their school year, their teachers and coaches took time to recognize some outstanding students anyway.
Among them are four students — two seniors and two juniors — who have made significant changes since they started high school, in their academics and their discipline. All four earned turn-around awards for the hard work they've put in.
Dapri Miller got his work done, but it was often late, and he did the minimum.
"I felt like my freshman year that I didn't really care about school or anything," he said. "As time went on, I got more serious in school and actually started caring about my classes and my grades."
Now Miller is college-bound, planning to play basketball at Lane Community College in Eugene and study to become a personal trainer.
Going to college and looking to the future motivated Miller to work harder in high school.
"I had a couple friends that influenced me that way about college," he said.
He played three sports at MHS, football, basketball and tennis.
"In order to be an athlete, you have to be a student first," he said.
While he was never ineligible to play, he was always right on the line, he said.
Sports and ROTC helped him to become more mature, he said.
ROTC adviser Capt. Kip Briggs said Miller participated in the program early in high school but didn't do well.
"After he left the program, we continued to talk and our relationship grew," Briggs said. "I think he just needed someone to show interest in him as a person. He started working harder in his classes and came back to us for his senior year ... He is now one of the hardest working students in the entire school. I am very proud of him."
His physics teacher said Miller is a unique learner, and he approaches complex problems in different ways.
"I go like a different route from everyone else," Miller said. "I don't take the easy way that people show me to fix things. There's always different ways to get an answer."
His advice to younger students: "If you're going to go for it, go for it. Don't hold yourself back, don't hesitate, and don't settle for less."
Senior Andrew Ganuza found a passion for football that has changed his perspective on everything.
Ganuza got mostly D's and figured he would work a 9-to-5 dead-end job, he said. "I wasn't the most motivated."
But his good friend Natalie Reynoso kept pushing him to play football.
Ganuza weighed about 335 pounds and didn't think he was fast enough, plus he knew nothing about the game. His family watched soccer and the Olympics.
"She was like, 'That doesn't mean anything. You can work, you can get better, do better,'" Ganuza said.
Reynoso didn't give up, and his junior year, Ganuza gave in.
"She pushed me because she knew that I had potential. ... She wanted to help me have a better life as well," Ganuza said. "I know that."
After the first day of summer practice, Ganuza thought football was all right.
After the first week, he was tired and didn't want to move.
"A fire was burning in my heart that would say, 'We should go back. We should work harder,'" he said.
Every night after practice, it was a struggle to decide to gack to practice, but he did it anyway.
"It was a moving moment in my life," he said. He realized, "I need to change my life, and I need to move forward, and I need to do better. ... The more effort I put in, the more reward I'll get in the end."
He still knew nothing about football, but he worked hard to be the best player he could for the team.
He got a starting spot in his first year, but he didn't think he deserved it.
"It's not the fact of being qualified to do it. It's the fact that my coaches saw: This guy can work hard."
What kept him going was a quote he'd heard: If you quit once, you quit forever. And he knew he couldn't do that.
He got injured in his first game against Milton-Freewater. But he was back to practice the next Monday, thanks to care from his mom, who is a nurse.
"I was getting attached to the sport," he said. "I started loving the sport, and I just couldn't get rid of it. The more I played it, the more it benefited my life."
He lost between 40 and 60 pounds, he said, and he worked out every day.
Ganuza said coach Kurt Taylor's DESIRE program — which stands for Discipline, Effort, Service, Integrity, Respect and Excellence — "stuck to my heart really hard. ... I can't express how much it's changed my life, and especially this program that Coach Taylor has."
He's become a leader on and off the field, and he's making his mother proud.
For the past 13 years, she has raised her three sons on her own.
"I owe a lot to my mom for just working her butt off and working to provide what I have today," Ganuza said.
He wants to make sure she has a good retirement, although she tells him not to worry about that.
For Ganuza, COVID-19 quarantining has meant missing out on prom and not getting enough time with his friends, but it's also meant worrying about his mother, who is a nurse at Mosaic Medical.
He knows she'll act safely, but he can't control what other people do.
"It's in the back of my head. Mom, please be safe," he said.
Ganuza's advice for other students is to share their blessings.
He wants to help his extended family in El Salvador. He promised his aunts and uncles that when he returns, he will make sure they have better homes. An aunt survives off a small store and a fishery, but her home is made of chicken wire, dirt and clay, with a metal roof on top.
"That's the best thing that I could tell somebody," Ganuza said. "Are you blessed to have something that other people don't? And are you willing to work your butt off to help somebody have something that you don't?"
To get there, Ganuza is planning to attend Montana State University-Northern, where he hopes to play football.
See next week's Pioneer to read about juniors Cameryn Halliday and Angel Solis, who also earned turn-around awards.
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