‘A Living Memorial’

Lady Trojans Team Remembers Its American Hero

Members of the Southwestern Central School girls cross country team touch the rock dedicated to the memory of Amy King, a 1989 SWCS graduate, who died on 9/11. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

On a day when you’re looking for something to do, might I suggest a trip to the dome entrance at Southwestern Central School. It’s probably not a good idea on a weekday when school is in session, because the campus in West Ellicott is typically teeming with activity. But I bet if you paid a visit on a Saturday or a Sunday, or during the summer, you’ll be overwhelmed, even emotional.

Because it’s there, in the roundabout, where the memorial to Amy King can be found. Flowers and a newly-planted tree surround a rock upon which a plaque is mounted. The plaque reads: “A living memorial to Amy King. ‘Our American Hero.’ September 11, 2001.”

Amy, a 1989 SWCS graduate and a former member of the school’s cross country and track and field teams, was a flight attendant on one of the planes that was flown into the World Trade Center exactly 18 years ago yesterday. To honor her memory after the horrific events of that day, the Lady Trojans’ cross country team continued a daily tradition Wednesday afternoon that was first initiated by Tom Priester, Amy’s former coach.

“After our team meeting, as a group, they touch the rock as part of a warmup,” said current coach Pedro Melendez said. “The tradition (re-started) last year, and we want to continue it.”

Team co-captains Quinn Taylor and Lily Nelson weren’t even born on 9/11, but they first heard stories about Amy from former Southwestern cross country coach Cristin Hockenberry, who revived the practice that was first initiated by Priester.

Pictured is the Amy King Memorial. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

“(Amy) was the glue of the team,” said Quinn, 17. “By touching the rock, it keeps her with us and reminds us that we all have to have each other’s back, be more like Amy, stick together, boost each other up and be confident.”

Noted Melendez: “(Amy) wasn’t necessarily the best athlete, but she contributed. … That’s pretty much our philosophy with our team. You may not be the best athlete, but stick with it, you’ll get better at it. We’re trying to embrace that spirit she had.”

Lily, 16, spoke about her fondness for everything that Amy represented during a tree dedication ceremony in May. Lily’s feelings about a woman she never met remain strong.

“Her legacy has been pretty amazing,” said Lily, who has been the recipient of the team’s Spirit Award – named in Amy’s honor — each of the last two years. “You have to be a pretty great person to have your memory still living on with so many people that didn’t even know you.”

Lily recounted the story of how Amy lifted the spirits of an opposing runner during a race decades ago.

An American flag flies at half staff in front of Southwestern Central School. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

“The other girl had asthma and she wanted to stop,” Lily said. “She didn’t want to finish the race. Amy ran with her, told the girl she could do it and she was going to make it (to the finish line). They both finished the race and the girl was really grateful for Amy.”

But there was more to the story.

“On 9/11, (that girl) emailed Amy’s parents and said that Amy was an angel in heaven like she was on earth,” Lily said. “It just showed how much (Amy) impacted people on that one day, that one race, those 15 minutes.”

“That would be the sportsmanship in her,” Melendez said of Amy. “It didn’t matter, win or lose, she wanted everybody to at least complete the run. … Do your very best. If you need to help a friend, a teammate, or even if it’s not a teammate, that was the goal behind the spirit of Amy King.”