New journeys: Area seniors reflect on COVID-19 impacts, future plans

KAYLEE LEYBAS | Submitted photo 

Kaylee Leybas is glad for some good news near the end of a challenging senior year.

The McAlester High School student’s senior year started with finding out her dad had cancer before she faced challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic in the final semester.

But the year is ending with happier news.

“We just found out last week that he’s cancer-free,” Leybas said.

Leybas said her dad grew up in McAlester before meeting his wife, Crystal, in college and they moved to the town for work and raised a family.

The family found out about the cancer diagnosis in September 2019.

Leybas recalled the excitement she shared with her little brother when they received a text from their parents during a visit to MD Anderson Cancer Center saying their father was cancer-free.

“Did you see it?” she asked her brother.

“Yeah, I’m so excited,” he answered.

“Me too,” Leybas said as she hugged him and shed some tears.

She said the experience brought her closer to her younger brother as they spent more time together at home and going to school.

Leybas said the family self-isolated and has rarely left the house since March 14 since her dad classified was at higher risk of getting COVID-19.

Leybas said she hasn’t joined friends in small groups during the pandemic because she wanted to keep her family safe. Instead, she and friends stay connected through FaceTime and social media chats.

She said preparing for college has been fun as she and her best friend, Reagan Bradish, plan to be dorm mates at Oklahoma State University.

Leybas said she will major in nutritional sciences on a pre-med tract and Braddish plans to study communications and speech disorders.

She said getting dishes, kitchenware, pictures, and other things for the apartment is exciting and gives her hope for the future.

“I’m just really excited to start my new journey as a Cowboy and I’ll always be a Buffalo no matter what,” she said.

Caleb Williams, a three-time state qualifier in tennis who also played basketball at McAlester, said he has been working several jobs to start his life after graduation.

He said working in construction, at grocery stores, and yard work is helping him pay bills and finance a house.

Williams said he misses classmates and teachers, but looks forward to graduation and the end of the virus.

“We are all in it together,” he said in a social media message. “Hopefully soon this will all be over and we can get back to a little bit of normalcy.”

The News-Capital asked senior student-athletes to submit letters with their reactions to the pandemic forcing cancellation of spring sports.

Hartshorne seniors Wyatt Baker and Sean Horstman detailed what they would miss about baseball, thanking coach Justin James for his leadership, and teammates for the memories.

Baker said his immediate reaction to the cancellation of spring sports was sadness, but he focused on the good things.

“With everything going on, it’s hard to be mad,” he wrote. “It’s not in anybody’s control. With no sports going on, I have spent quality time with my family and also having small family-based activities that are missed during the season.”

Baker plans to attend Southeastern Oklahoma State University to study kinesiology.

Horstman recalled teammates singing a Backstreet Boys song after a big game as part of what made baseball like a family for him.

He thanked the fans for their support, coaches for their guidance, and everyone involved for the relationships they built.

“I’m thankful for all of the memories,” Horstman wrote. “I’m broken while typing this but God's plan is far greater than we can even imagine.”

Indianola’s Eli Prince looked back on his athletic career as he participated in basketball, baseball and track — becoming the school’s first track athlete to qualify for the state meet as a sophomore.

He reflected on an ACL tear sidelining him for his junior year and said he was crushed when he recovered for his senior year only for COVID-19 concerns to force a cancellation of the season.

“I feel like the last chapter of my high school athletic career will be left unwritten,” Prince wrote.

But now he is focused on his next chapter.

Prince said he plans to attend college and become a physical therapy assistant so he can help others.

“I am excited about the future,” Prince wrote.

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com

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