For the past three years, Aidan Henson has spent a week training for the East Clinton boys track and field season with a glorious view of the Caribbean Sea.
But don’t think Henson, a straight-A student with a 4.0 grade point average, is touring Central America to soak up the sun on a spring break junket with his East Clinton buddies.
The EC senior is working at the Belize Friends School to help the disadvantaged youth of the area get an education.
“High school is everything for them,” he said. “If not involved in this, they’ll be involved in gangs or prostitution, so high school means a lot to these kids.”
The Belize Friends School is a second-chance institution sponsored by the Friends United Meeting that helps youth who don’t pass the high school entrance exam. Failure to pass an entrance exam equals a lifetime of struggle for most. And the lifetime may not be very long.
“Belize is a very poor country,” Henson said. “Parents aren’t always there … they’re involved in gangs. High school allows the kids to get on the path and find the right way to go.”
Henson said there are different levels of high school in Belize and a better test school means a better high school for the young.
“Most of these kids have grown up without any teaching, that’s what makes the test so hard for them,” he said.
Henson and other local students went to Belize as a mission trip through Wilmington College, led by the Henson’s neighbors Nancy and Mike McCormick.
Henson’s brother Ian and mother Mindy went to Belize in 2013. The school has moved since 2013, now just a few thousand feet from the Caribbean.
“I liked hearing their experiences, looking at the pictures,” the youngest Henson said.
So Aidan went to Belize for the first time in 2018. He and Mike “do good work on projects,” he said. Among them are offices for teachers, bathrooms, a wall to divide a classroom, a mural and re-finishing desks for the students.
The mission group conducts after-school bible programs for the youth of Belize, whether they are attending the school or not. Henson said they might be 10-15 kids in school but sometimes 50 for the after-school programs.
Henson said the youth of Belize are “friendly” for the most part.
“They have discipline problems,” he said. “They don’t know how to act in a structured school setting … It’s not like they are bad people but they’ve had their struggles.”
When the mission trip leaves Belize, Henson said the youth are sad. “They’re good kids, it’s just hard because of their situation.”
Henson was on pace to complete the most decorated career for an East Clinton boys distance runner in a number of years, if not ever.
He won three events in the SBAAC National Division Track and Field Championship meet last season, earning National Division Boys Track Athlete of the Year honors. He also was the National Division Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year in the fall.
A two-time regional cross country qualifier, Henson holds the EC boys record in cross country and the 800-meter run in track and field. He tied the 3,200-meter run record last season and would likely break that and establish a record in the 400-meter dash if the 2020 spring season is contested.
This spring, Henson wasn’t certain he was going to go on the trip. A new director of the school was appointed, though, and he wanted to see how things were going.
After a few days of the week-long trip, Henson and the others were getting word of the growing pandemic, Covid-19.
“Midweek they cancelled travel from Europe and that’s when it really hit us,” Henson said. “Do we stay or come home early? Everyone freaked out when college was cancelled, when school was cancelled.”
They stuck it out and were able to complete the mission trip without issue. And, even though it appears to have been for naught, Henson did train for what should have been his final athletic endeavor at ECHS.
“I was still running in a Belize a little bit,” he said. “I’m working so I’m sweating. It’s not like I was sitting on the beach being a bum.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email email@example.com or on Twitter @wnjsports