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Zane Wring fought through unbelievable obstacles to graduate from Spanish River High School in Boca Raton a few weeks ago.
Wring, 18, of Boca Raton, lived in a hotel after being evicted from the family home, spent two years living out of a van with his parents and two siblings, endured foster care, his mother’s incarceration, and the death of his father in February to become a star varsity basketball player at the school. He helped to lead the Sharks to an 11-3 record this past year.
Senior Robyn Arrington-Epperson from Pittsburgh was the female winner. She is the class valedictorian at Westinghouse High School and the first member of her family to attend college.
The award recognizes a boy and girl high school basketball player who has consistently gone above and beyond throughout the basketball season and has demonstrated courage in their approach to their team, their school, the game and their community.
“I think I am deserving of it,” Wring said. “It fits me. It signifies that I have been through a lot and persevered.”
In middle school, Wring lived in a cramped, two-bed, one-bath hotel room with his parents and two siblings for a couple of months after being evicted from the family home. When the money ran out, they were homeless and forced to live out of a utility van with two seats and the rear of the van stacked with blankets to form a makeshift bed. It was parked in a patchy grass area next to a church.
“It was pretty tough being a kid in middle school and everyone else around you has a house and everything else is going good, and me, I am living in a hotel and after that a van,” said Wring, who will attend North Palm Beach Prep in the fall with hopes of landing a D-1 football scholarship.
“It made me stronger because I had to go days without eating, a long time without eating actually,” Wring said. “I was homeless my freshman year of high school, sophomore year, and a little bit into my junior year when my aunt came and got me. I didn’t tell anybody. I had no assets like computers and my schoolwork was terrible.”
He was briefly eligible for the first quarter of his freshman year in high school, playing football and then on the freshman basketball team.
“I was on the team in my freshman year and I was one of the best,” Wring said, “Then (head basketball) coach John Jones said he needed to talk to me and said my grades were bad and he was kicking me off the team. I didn’t tell him why my grades weren’t good.”
Jones said it was a difficult situation.
“He was by far the most talented kid in the freshman class and he was proud of that,” said Jones, who was also his physical education teacher. “His performance on the court wasn’t equaling his performance in the classroom, and because of that, he became ineligible halfway through his freshman year. We had the discussion that he couldn’t play and that’s when everything kind of spiraled and went downhill.
“At the end of his freshman year, that’s when I started to hear all of the stories about him being homeless and living out of the van,” Jones said. “He may not have told me, but we knew. You know as teachers, coaches and administrators that stuff gets spread around…he was in one of my basketball classes, so I wanted to support him and give him hope that he can right the ship and get it back afloat and there would be an opportunity to get back in here and become part of the program.”
Things continued to nosedive for Wring as he remained ineligible in his sophomore year and was still homeless. It was taking its toll on him.
“It was tough because I love sports and I am a great athlete,” he said. “I really wanted to play and help the team. I was wearing the same clothes. I was just rotating (them) around. People noticed and said something, but I just acted like I couldn’t hear them.”
When he turned 16, his mother was incarcerated and he moved in with his aunt. He said she helped him look into the future and make something out of his life, including that he wanted to be a professional athlete, learning about real estate and sports marketing.
In his junior year, he turned to teachers to get tutored during lunch breaks and after school and hit the books hard. By the time his senior year rolled around, he was eligible for sports again.
“Playing this year was amazing,” Wring said. “I just went out and did what I had to do.”
Wring played shooting guard for the Sharks before tragedy struck in February. Wring had just fallen asleep when his brother rushed into his room saying his father wasn’t breathing.
Half asleep, he raced into the other room to find his mother performing CPR on his father. She asked her son to take over because she felt like she was having a heart attack. Wring said he performed CPR on his father for two to three minutes before the paramedics arrived.
“I knew he was already gone and now I know that it was cancer, and he was already gone,” Wring said. “I was traumatized because I was looking at my dad’s dead body. It was totally unexpected.”
Jones said Wring went AWOL from practice for a week as messages and texts went unanswered.
“Eventually, he got back to me,” Jones said. “He sent me a very nice text and an apology saying here’s what happened. He didn’t go into detail, but he said, ‘My dad passed away and I am dealing with that right now.’
“The only thing I sent back to him was that we are all here to support you,” Jones said. “You don’t have to go through this alone. We can help if you want us to help and that was kind of it, and within a week he was back and just being his normal self. Now you take everything that he is trying to accomplish, and that is one more thing where he could have said, ‘Why should I keep going?’ And he has.”
Wring’s story was one of the last submissions into the national contest. When he was called down to the principal’s office, he thought it was to make up some missing classwork. He was met by school administrators and his coaches.
“I wasn’t really emotional, crying,” Wring said as he paused to gather his composure. “I was just happy. I had a feeling that I would have a chance at winning.”
He said he is hopeful of gaining notoriety at North Palm Beach Prep, where former Spanish River football coach Bill Ceasar was able to help Wring land to help prep for a college opportunity.
“I want to go to the prep school and ball out and become the best receiver there,” Wring said. “I want to get an offer from a D1 college and go there and be the best receiver there and get drafted.
“I want to be an inspiration to the youth,” he said. “I think I am an inspiration now. I think I am locally famous and I think before you become famous, you have to have a little buzz like where you are at. People at (Spanish River) that I didn’t even know and teachers I didn’t even know were congratulating me. It’s cool. I feel loved.”
Jones and Athletic Director Kevin McEnroe both lauded the efforts of Assistant Principal Josh Wade in getting Wring back on track last year.
“It is determination and grit,” Jones said. “You get into a situation like that and it can just overcome you. To know that three years later he is standing and coming through and graduated…(it’s) unbelievable.”
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Added McEnroe: “When I saw the advertisement from Jersey Mike’s I went running to him and said he has to be a candidate for this and Mr. Wade wrote a very inspiring letter telling his story. He was one of the last people to get his application in and they immediately put him at the front of the line. That’s what his story meant. That is how well people appreciated what he went through.
“The girl who was the Naismith winner was actually the class valedictorian,” McEnroe said. “I am actually more inspired by him being able to get to a point where he can graduate than anything else. It is a great thing to be a valedictorian, but what he went through…the most important day in your life as a high school kid is graduation and for him to be able to do that is great.
Wade said calling Wring courageous “requires a redefining of the word.”
“Courage alone cannot encapsulate the grit, vision, commitment, discipline and mental strength that Zane embodies,” he said. “Zane is an inspiration to all of us in the Spanish River community. His strength and determination to overcome unbelievable obstacles make him the perfect recipient of this honor. Our community needs more young men like Zane.”