Most high school students can count grades and parents as the top stressors in their lives but many JAG students face adversity that goes well beyond the “normal” stress of life as a teenager and then there a few JAG students that face serious health issues in addition to their struggle with academics.
In rural Montana, at a weekend basketball game, eight football players from Circle, Montana passed through a crowd of about 150 people, collecting donations in football helmets. At the end of their endeavor, they had raised more than $2,000 for the family of Shay Bridges, a Culbertson basketball player who was recently diagnosed with a pituitary brain tumor. Shay’s mother, Melinda Portra, was overwhelmed by the kindness. “I cried,” she said. “I mean, I just don’t even know. There’s no words to describe all the emotions a person feels when people do something so loving.”
Shay is a 16-year-old junior at Culbertson High. After experiencing trouble with his hormone levels, Melinda and Kevin Portra, his parents took him to the doctor last month. After an MRI the Portra’s were made aware of the tumor, it was already twice as large as such tumors usually are when they’re discovered. The next step was sending Shay to a specialist in Denver. Treatment includes a regimen of medications intended to shrink the tumor and to adjust thyroid levels. Shay is facing surgery if the medications don’t work. This all happened so recently that Portra said she doesn’t know what all the costs will be. But their insurance isn’t covering everything, she said, and “just going to Denver alone is nice and spendy.”
Mary Machart has Shay in her Jobs for Montana Graduates class at Culbertson High School, she said Shay’s classmates started a fundraising last week. They are selling “Pray 4 Shay” wristbands. They raised $160 just an hour after sales started and have now raised between $500 and $600. And then she heard from the Circle football players. She learned that they wanted to do a fundraiser at the Saturday night basketball game. Friday, the day before the basketball game, the players came up with the “pass-the-helmet” idea, modeled after firefighters passing a boot.
It only took moments to raise almost $1,900. Later in the game Michael “Voice of the Wildcats” Conroy, announced how much had been raised. At that point, the head referee donated the money he was being paid that night, and a second referee donated his check as well. The total presented to Shay’s parents was $2,053.67
Shay is just 5-foot-3 and plays on the JV and varsity teams for Culbertson. He went into the game after the Cowboys were ahead. “When they put him in at the end of the game, he came in and scored right off the bat,” Beth Conroy said. “The crowd literally went crazy.” He ended up with four points in the 61-41 win over Circle.
Shay’s mother said her son’s short stature is probably related to his thyroid problems, though they didn’t know that before. There is talk about putting him on growth hormones. She described Shay as a class clown and a bundle of energy who makes friends with everybody. “Shay is just one of those kids that is just liked by everybody,” she said. “In all the surrounding towns, everyone knows Shay.” In the small towns of Eastern Montana, much like in the JAG community, a story like this and the camaraderie is not unusual, everybody is family.