Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Former Mav Terrance Shaw Still Going Strong

Terrance Shaw, with Mavs coach Clint Harper, last Friday night.
MARSHALL, Texas – A simple Internet search of “Terrance Shaw” turns up what most folks know about the 1991 graduate of Marshall High School.
Football standout at Stephen F. Austin State University. First-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers. Member of five different NFL teams, including the Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, and Oakland Raiders. You can even find out that yes, Terrance Shaw won a Super Bowl ring as a member of the New England Patriots in 2001, the first Super Bowl win in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady-led Patriots dynasty.
But what very few know about Terrance Shaw is the road it took to get to that Super Bowl in New Orleans. Or to the NFL draft. Or to SFA, for that matter. Most sports junkies can tell you the story of how Michael Jordan got cut from his junior high team, but those same sports junkies can’t tell you that Terrance Shaw, Super Bowl champion, had decided to quit football as a sophomore at Marshall High School in 1988.
If it weren’t for a couple of assistant coaches who cared deeply both for the Mavericks overall and for Terrance himself, Shaw will readily admit that he wouldn’t be where he is today. For a kid who left high school weighing just 158 pounds following a state championship season in 1990 with the Mavs, Terrance can trace it all back to that day on the practice field when he reached a true crossroads in his life.
Seeing Something Special
Shaw returned to his hometown this past Friday night as the Mavs unveiled a commemorative sign outside Maverick Stadium, marking its identity as the home of a Super Bowl champion. On the opposite end of the wall on the east end of the stadium, a similar sign honors NFL Hall of Famer and Marshall native Y.A. Tittle.
Out of all the great players who have worn the red and white over the years, only a relative handful have ever gone on to play professionally. Only one – still known around Marshall as “T-Shaw” – reached the pinnacle of football.
“My advice to young players is to just keep your head down and keep grinding,” says Shaw, who makes his home in DeSoto, Texas now with his wife and seven children. “I always look back and remind everybody that I was a ‘B’ team player in the seventh and eighth grade. We had a great running back ahead of me in D.D. Turner and I was way down on the depth chart. I was always quick and fast, but I was small. I just kept working on my game, and working some more to elevate my game. It’s a constant grind but now of course it was all worth it.”
The huge, shiny Super Bowl ring he owns now is a constant reminder for Shaw of the benefits of the grind. He knows all too well the meaning of “so hard to be a Maverick,” from his days as a young man growing up in Marshall.
Terrance was raised in Marshall by his grandmother, Margaret Shaw. His grandfather had died when Terrance was in elementary school, so it was just him and his grandma.
In junior high, Shaw was a running back buried deep on the depth chart. He spent his two seasons as a MJHS Dogie playing on the “B” team. As a sophomore at Marshall High School in 1988, Shaw was still just a face in the crowd, a scout-team type player destined to spend the season on the junior varsity while the Mavs were on their way to the first of three straight district championships and deep playoff runs. That 1988 team was led by Odell Beckham and Shaw’s own classmate, D.D. Turner. Only the most rabid of Maverick fans even knew Terrance Shaw existed on the roster.
Shaw believed in his own ability, but the numbers game wasn’t in his favor. After years of fighting the battle to get out of a position pit with no progress, Terrance had reached what he thought was the end for him before he even got started.
“I remember one day I’d had enough of it all, and I said that’s it, man, I quit,” he said. “Two coaches on the staff – Coach Sid (Harper) and Coach Bill (Harper) – came up to me and put their arms around me and said they believed in me. They would take me on defense, just don’t quit. As it turned out, that made all the difference in the world for me.”
Those two coaches – Bill Harper, who was then the Mavs’ defensive coordinator and who would go on to become the winningest head coach in Marshall football history following the 1990 season; and Sid Harper, a position coach and special teams coordinator who spent several years with the Mavs and is the father of current Marshall head coach, Clint Harper – are still referred to as “my two dads” by Terrance Shaw.
“I credit them with everything,” he said. “Without them, there wouldn’t have been me where I am today because I would’ve been just another kid. I still want to model myself after Coach Sid and Coach Bill…those guys loved us. That night coming home (in 1990, after the state championship game in Houston), on that icy road, everybody was scared but Coach Sid and Coach Bill had rode back with us and they were like a blanket, man.”
Terrance can still get emotional talking about Margaret, who passed away in 2001, but he admits it was going to be difficult for a 58-year-old grandmother to handle a 16-year-old teenage boy – which is why he is so appreciative of the guidance provided by his coaches.
“To be successful you have to be willing to do the things that aren’t easy,” he said. “You have to want to have a better situation. First of all, I never played for myself. When I went to college, I was planning to go to school and put my grandmother in a better situation. We were on government assistance until I was a senior. Every game I was going to play for her, that was my motivation.”
Sid Harper and Bill Harper had a hand in keeping Terrance in the program as a sophomore, but he never played a down of varsity football until the third week of the season in 1989, his junior year. Refreshed at his new position of cornerback, Shaw paid his dues as a member of the Mavs’ junior varsity up until that third week of the season.
When the call finally came to help the varsity, Shaw didn’t waste any time. His first game, against Kilgore, he got his first career interception. That led to a quick rise to prominence on a Maverick team that reached the mountaintop in 1990, as Marshall defeated Converse Judson 21-19 in the Astrodome to bring home the 1990 Big 5A state title.
In that game, Shaw made a game-turning interception in the end zone that helped save the Mavs’ eventual two-point win. So the former depth-chart casualty at running back who almost quit as a sophomore book-ended his high school career with an interception in his first varsity game, and the biggest one of his life to that point in his final game as a Mav.
And again, something most folks don’t realize who were part of the thousands of Marshall and East Texas fans to attend that historic game in December 1990 is that Shaw basically played that day on one leg.
“I had gotten hurt a couple days before the game, banging knees with somebody,” he recalls. “I probably had a partial tear of my knee then, but man I was not going to miss that game. It was a rough game, (Converse Judson) played us hard all the way to the end. I made that pick and probably should have scored, but I was hurting and got about as far as I could on that leg.”

Making It

Shaw went on to receive a football scholarship to SFA, where he suffered a torn ACL as a sophomore. He entered college weighing less than 160 pounds, but by the time he reached his senior year, he had bulked up to about 205 and was clocked at a 4.2 40-yard dash. That kind of physical, athletic, fast cornerback is an NFL prospect, and Shaw found himself on many NFL draft boards in the spring of 1995.
“I just kept two ladies on my mind – my grandmother, and my ‘Mav mom,’ Pat Berry,” he recalls of his days at SFA. “They missed one game of my college career, and that was because Grandma was sick. I promised them I was always going to play for them. I worked hard and I didn’t want to let them down. I wasn’t worried about anybody else, just those two wonderful ladies.”
He also spoke of the ’95 Draft Night when he was sitting at home and the only representative from an NFL team that was with him was a member of the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys had indicated they were interested in Shaw, but the Chargers – who had made their first Super Bowl appearance the prior season -- made a trade to move up at the start of the second round and grabbed Shaw 34th overall, making him their top draft pick that season. At that point, Shaw says the Cowboys representative left.
“I really think all he was there for was to keep them (Cowboys) informed about who was calling me,” he said, chuckling. “I don’t know how serious they were about actually drafting me, especially anywhere high in the draft, but they were the only team that sent a rep to my house that night.”
Shaw played five seasons with San Diego before signing a free agent contract with the Dolphins. He then spent the 2001 season with the Patriots – earning his Super Bowl ring – before signing with the Raiders and going to his second straight Super Bowl in 2002. After two seasons in Oakland, Shaw finished his 10-year NFL career with a final season as a member of the Vikings, in 2004.
One of his biggest regrets is the fact that two of his biggest fans – his grandmother and his mother – never got to see him play and win a Super Bowl. His mother, who had undergone a heart transplant in 1985, passed away in July of 2001. His grandmother, Margaret, passed away about a month later.
“That…was a tough year,” Shaw admits. “A rough season.”
Following his retirement, Shaw satisfied his love for football by coaching Little League football. He developed a passion for teaching the game and working with youth, traits that have led to him now being in charge of his own youth football organization in DeSoto, “The Soaring Eagles.”
“I want kids to be taught fundamentals,” he said. “We teach fundamentals. You can do that without much contact at a young age and get kids ready to play when it is time. This is our first year and we had over 200 kids come out, so football is big in DeSoto. I’m expecting that number to double next year.”
So continues the story of that little kid from Marshall, Texas – the one who was fast but too small, the one who had some talent but not enough, the one who was going to watch along with everyone else as others went on to the big time. That little kid was Terrance Shaw, who now stands as one of the most recognizable Marshall Mavericks in history.

“My motto to anyone is always to just keep grinding, no matter what,” he said. “I was a Mav here and we had some great times, but you got to keep going. Keep grinding, keep your head down and keep your nose clean, and you can make it. I believe it. I lived it.”

Story by David Weaver
MISD Director of Communications

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

True Grit: Finding Quality Educators Is Personal For MISD's Britni Searle

MARSHALL – The path that led Britni Searle to become Marshall ISD’s Executive Director of Human Resources didn’t begin during her childhood as a student growing up in either Chapel Hill ISD or Okinawa, Japan.

It didn’t begin at Baylor University, her dream school and the only one she ever applied to.

It also didn’t begin during the early years of her marriage to Ronan Searle, a native of Marshall, who she met as a senior at Baylor. It also didn’t begin with her career as a human resources recruiter with stops in Dallas, Florida and Longview.

No, Britni Searle’s career in Marshall ISD, for all intents and purposes, began during one of the darkest times in her life. It was a time when intense joy combined with pain and suffering and questions in the greatest of ironies.

It began at the bedside of her infant son, Matthew, as he fought for his life in Willis Knighton South’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Shreveport. During a two-month stay in which Britni and Ronan were only able to hold their premature newborn for short periods of time, with another 15-month old son waiting at home in Marshall, Britni had time to truly ponder the goals and aspirations she had for her children.

And just like it was for her in the early years, it all came back to education.

The Right Stuff

Britni Searle became the Executive Director of Human Resources in MISD in October of 2015. The new school year was a little over a month old and the annual hiring season was still months away, but the new personnel manager for the district already had a game plan.

After several meetings with district employees, including a focus group of teachers, Searle determined one overriding characteristic she was looking for in MISD employees, specifically teachers, in order to meet the needs of Marshall students.

“After I had met with and talked to several of our teachers and staff, the one thing that I found was that we were really looking for employees who had grit,” Searle says. “What is it that makes a person have that toughness, that ‘grit?’ As I internalized that with my own self, I had to ask well, what is ‘grit?’ What does that look like and how would we recognize it in a prospective teacher, or a teacher already in our district?”

MISD has already made huge strides in its recruiting and retention efforts in less than a year with Searle as its chief manager of personnel. She played a huge role in restructuring the teacher salary scale, which is now more competitive and assures that every teacher in the classroom will receive a pay raise in 2016-2017. This has been instrumental in retaining current teachers, and also making the district more attractive financially for new and former MISD teachers.

For all other employees in MISD, a three-percent, across-the-board raise has been approved as well. Searle has also worked tirelessly on processes and procedures, with clearly-defined job descriptions for all employees as well as beginning to plan ahead for staffing challenges when MISD makes the move into new buildings in the fall of 2017.

All of that has taken place under Searle’s watch the last 10 months, despite having to navigate the challenges of a change in leadership in midstream when Dr. Marc Smith, the superintendent who hired her, left the district to become superintendent in Duncanville ISD. Her new boss, Dr. Jerry Gibson, however, has already seen the results of Searle’s hard work in the district’s HR department and is very much appreciative of the strides already made.

“In her short time here she has found best practices for her department and MISD will run more effectively as we adapt to those systems,” said Dr. Gibson, who took over as MISD superintendent on July 1. “With people like her, we will get MISD to where it needs to be.”

None of the progress has been easy, but that’s okay for Searle, whose life experiences prior to coming to MISD have been preparing her for the everyday challenge of being in charge of staffing a school district with over 800 employees.

“Working in Human Resources is very challenging because you’re working with people, and not every person is the same,” she said. “Not every situation is the same. You have similarities and you gain experience with that but nothing is ever a cookie cutter. You have to look at things differently and you to approach things from a business aspect and a people aspect in order to understand what motivates people. I always try to ask myself, how can we look at a situation differently in order to have a positive outcome for everyone involved?”

Although she never had a burning desire to necessarily be a teacher, it is hard to look at Britni’s life and say she wasn’t destined to have some role in education. Her mother became a teacher during Britni’s early years as a student in Chapel Hill ISD, just east of Tyler. Her father was always involved in a sales career and is now Maintenance Director with JDS Restaurants, which owns Taco Bell franchises.

When Britni was in the fifth grade, her mother took an offer from the Department of Defense to teach overseas, which landed the family in Okinawa, Japan, for a year. The experience was a positive one for Britni, who found herself taking in an entirely different culture than the one she’d grown used to back in Texas.

“It was a lot of fun,” she remembers. “We lived in a high rise apartment on a military base. I got to go to a summer camp…my parents had to put me on a ship because the camp was on another island in the Pacific. I was gone for like 2-3 weeks in the summer, and I lived with a traditional Japanese family. In Japan, the bathrooms are community bathrooms; so the whole family bathes together. I remember as a fifth-grade girl and everybody putting on their bathing suits and just going into the community shower. It was really interesting to see a different culture.”

She immersed herself in Japanese culture while she was there, so much so that she admits she learned a little of the language and customs, such as breaking a raw egg over rice for breakfast in the morning and hoping the rice was warm enough to cook the egg.

After a year, the family returned to Chapel Hill and Britni finished school, graduating as salutatorian of her senior class in 2000. She had already made her collegiate plans, but not without some tough moments.

“I attended a summer camp at Baylor and visited when I was a freshman or sophomore,” she said. “I fell in love with the school. I remember coming home and telling my parents that I didn’t want to apply anywhere else. Of course, Baylor is a private Baptist school and it’s fairly expensive, so I remember my parents saying well, we can’t afford that. But I was determined that that’s where I was going to school, and it was the only school I ever applied to, so I just worked harder. I applied for scholarships and kept retaking the ACT and SAT to improve my score, to get more scholarship money.”

She had met Ronan Searle, of Marshall, as a senior at Baylor after a sorority sister set them up. Britni’s plans had been to potentially move to Colorado where she had been working summers at a camp, but ironically Ronan also had been working with an uncle very near that camp. Instead of moving to Colorado when that summer was over, she decided to move back home to Chapel Hill – which was less than hour away from Marshall and her future husband, she says with a grin.

That was in August of 2004, and she spent that next school year as a substitute teacher at Chapel Hill High School. She taught freshman IPC class and “loved it,” she said. However, she didn’t feel the call to full-time teaching, and soon entered the world of human resources and employee recruiting.

“That experience probably helps me today,” she said. “I tell you what, not having formal training as a teaching and walking into a classroom, I had 110 students and just understanding each one of them individually and differentiating the learning with each of them, that’s a tough job. That helps me today, knowing how we should support our teachers, how we should support our employees in the school district.”

She moved to Dallas and got into sales and recruiting, and then moved to Florida, where she worked as an Executive Recruiter for Parker and Lynch in Jacksonville. She and Ronan then married, and the couple moved back to Waco as Ronan entered law school and Britni went to work as Client Relationship Manager, in Human Resources, at Baylor.

After having their first child, Grant, the couple wanted to move back closer to home, so the Searles moved back to East Texas in 2012. Ronan went to work with his father, Dean Searle, at a law practice in Marshall. Britni, who had prided herself as a hard-working, career-minded “millennial,” found herself suddenly as a stay-at-home mom.

When she became pregnant with their second child, however, all the toughness, grittiness and never-quit attitude she now searches for in prospective MISD employees was put on full display – in herself.

Growing Pains

The emotion in Britni Searle’s voice in talking about that tough holiday season in 2012-2013 is still very piercing, which paints a vivid picture of the seriousness of her son Matthew’s birth even 3 ½ years later. Thankfully, the picture ends with a smile, but for a two-month stretch from Thanksgiving to late January, on most days, that picture was cloudy at best.

The Searles’ first son, Grant, was barely a year old when Britni and Ronan found out they would be welcoming a second baby into the family. But it also became quite apparent, very early, that her second pregnancy would be much more difficult than the first. Britni made it to 29 weeks, but Matthew was born premature at Willis Knighton South, in Shreveport, and was admitted to to the NICU there on Nov. 26.

Britni and Ronan spent the following days and weeks driving back and forth from Marshall to Shreveport, to be at Matthew’s bedside. The visitation regulations were very strict, with the toughest being that Matthew’s older brother, Grant, couldn’t come visit because he himself was only 15 months old. So Britni and Ronan found themselves living life in two different places, with their two children separated from each other and from mommy and daddy, across the state line, as the weeks dragged on and on.

By Christmas, Britni had almost reached a breaking point.

“It was…a difficult Christmas,” she said. “I remember being with (Matthew) all day on Christmas Day, then coming home thinking that something just wasn’t right. I came back to Marshall and we were having the big Christmas dinner with family and everything and we got the call from the hospital.”

Matthew’s fever had spiked, which was highly unusual for a premature baby. Britni and Ronan jumped in the car and sped back to Shreveport to be with their son, leaving behind another son, their family, and the general idea of Christmas. It was a long, tough ride.

“We saw him for 30 minutes and then we had to leave the unit,” she said. “I wasn’t going home after that. We stayed with some friends in Shreveport.”

Seeing her newborn baby lying helpless in intensive care was one thing, but overall, the strain of trying to be mommy to both young boys who were miles apart, and the stress of keeping up that schedule, had almost become too much to bear.

“I just remember our family being separated because our first son wasn’t old enough to go into the NICU so anytime we would go over to see Matthew we couldn’t take (Grant) with us,” she said. “Our family was separated for weeks at a time across state borders. It was really…really challenging. It was tough.”

Thankfully, Matthew improved gradually with each passing day, and the Searles were able to bring their little boy home for good on January 25, 2013. It was a day that Britni, for sure, will never forget.

“I remember we named him ‘Matthew’ because that means ‘gift from God,” Britni said. “At 18-20 weeks I knew were were going to have a difficult pregnancy. Probably from that point I bonded with him, even before he was born. The whole time he was in the hospital I just remember him being a gift. He’s part of my testimony every single day.”

Due to the premature birth, Matthew has had some developmental delays that the Searles have addressed. He had to do some speech therapy and occupational therapy, but the therapy was done very early following the birth and Britni says that now he is a perfect, healthy child.

“He’s developmentally great…we did all that therapy early on and then we’ve caught him up with everything,” she said. “He’s absolutely perfect and healthy to this day. It’s just a miracle.”

A year passed, and once she knew Matthew was going to be fine, Britni felt like it was time to go back to work. She found a position working as a Human Resources Consultant at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview, and hit the ground running as though she’d never left.

But she knew her heart was back in Marshall, with her husband and her two little boys. And the future for all of them was hurtling forward like a freight train.

Part Of The Solution

Marshall ISD’s Director of Human Resources position opened up in the fall of 2015. Always prepared and forward-thinking, Britni says she kept tabs on potential openings with companies in the area looking for human resource professionals. When the MISD position went up, she knew she’d found what she was looking for.

She kept going back to that one year she’d spent as a substitute teacher in the classroom, along with all of her experiences growing up with a mom teaching in two different countries. Her experience in the field of human resources and recruiting in the corporate world, combined with her upbringing in education, made for a perfect match.

“I was tickled and excited to come on board,” Searle said. “It’s been a lot of work. The toughest part has just been putting some processes and procedures in place and outlining them. We do a lot of things on paper, so coming from the business world where sometimes you have more resources with technology, I found that you have to be a little more creative and you have to go through a couple of extra steps because we are funded through public funds. Those were some of the immediate challenges and differences I faced jumping into the hiring season this summer.”

As with any company, the hiring of employees in a school district is not an exact science. It’s not about hiring every person who is qualified to do a single job, Britni says. It’s about hiring, and retaining, the right qualified person to do the job.

“I have a saying. You hire for attitude, and you train for skill,” she said. “In a school district, the most important quality for me when we look at hiring people is that we hire people who love kids and who want to be a teacher for the right reasons. They want to provide an impact in other people’s lives. I don’t necessarily look at credentials or experience only. I look at finding right person who fits into our culture here in MISD, because it is very unique, and also someone who enjoys working with a diverse population of students. It’s about finding and keeping people who fit into your culture.”

To that end, since coming on board to MISD, Searle has been helping build an image of the district to make it more competitive and attractive to teaching professionals. Across-the-board raises for both teachers and non-teaching staff have certainly helped, as has the promise of new, state-of-the-art facilities to meet the needs of students and teachers in today’s environment.

“I remember the bond and all that when it came up, and I was a community member,” Searle said. “I had young children, and I remember seeing all the positive and negative things that were out there. I just remember saying, you know what, we have to invest in our children. That’s something we have to do. Starting with that investment, yes, it’s in buildings, and the second piece of that is bringing in and keeping the right teachers on board in our district.

“Yes, I agree that buildings can only take you so far. But, it’s ultimately what goes on in the classroom and recruiting and retaining the right teachers that ultimately is what is going to make a difference and help our community in the long run.”

As Superintendent of MISD, Dr. Gibson appreciates that attitude in his chief personnel recruiter.

“What I love most about Britni is that she has bought in and she is invested in what we are going to do and who we are going to be,” he said. “She has two young sons who will be educated in Marshall ISD. We have to get it right when it comes to educating the students of Marshall and she fully understands what is at stake. She has chosen to be a part of the solution, and not a part of the problem. With people like her, we will get MISD where it needs to be.”

It is her life experiences, including fighting through the very difficult time sitting at her youngest child’s bedside as he fought through his own challenges of a premature birth, that has helped Britni Searle prepare for the calling she has now.

“I’ve experienced some true blessings but also had some challenges, and I feel like that has helped me become a gritty person,” she said. “Overcoming some personal challenges has helped me grow as a person to say that if there is a road block, I’m going to come up with a plan A through Z, whatever it takes, to figure out how to solve it and push through and make it happen. That’s the attitude I want in people we hire and people who work here. Yes, we have challenges, but we must push through and solve problems, and that requires tough, gritty people. There is too much at stake for us not to be successful. I love that challenge.”

-- Story by David Weaver/MISD Director of Communications & Public Relations

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Day Of Progress Lasts A Lifetime For Skinner Family

The Skinner Family (from left): Kristin, Madie, Molly Michael and Matt

Madison Skinner is just like any other seven-year old child in the summertime. She likes to swim, much like her older sister, Molly Michael, who is already swimming competitively as she prepares to enter the fourth grade at South Marshall STEM Academy.

Madison, or Madie, as she is more well known, is entering the second grade at William B. Travis Elementary. She enjoys the freshness of dipping her face in the cool water of a swimming pool, or the exciting rush of entering the water after a trip down the slide.

All of this is normal for most children over the course of a hot Texas summer in Marshall. But for Madie and her family, a simple pleasure such as swimming is something much more.

It is a profile in courage.

15-20 Minutes
Matt and Kristin Skinner, both graduates of Marshall High School, had celebrated the first birthday of their second child, Madie, in June of 2010 and were going about their normal, everyday lives in August of that year. Matt was working in Longview, and Kristin had a dental appointment the afternoon of August 25, 2010. Molly Michael was at preschool, and Madie was with a babysitter.

Madie was 14 months old.

Matt, a graduate of Baylor University, will never forget the phone call he received.

"The sitter called me, and by the way she was talking I knew something had happened,” Matt recalls. “She was sobbing in the phone that Madie had fallen in the pool and the EMT's were working on her in the ambulance. I found out later that the Marshall PD blocked every intersection en route to the hospital to ensure Madie got there as quickly as possible. With the CPR and medical attention given to Madie by MPD and Marshall EMT's, she would not be here today. I want people to know we have an awesome town, school district, police and fire departments.”

Kristin, who graduated MHS in 1998 and went on to graduate from Texas A&M, was sitting in the dentist’s chair, across from the Good Shepherd Medical Center in Marshall, having a cavity filled.

“I just remember the assistants kept coming back into the room and asking, ‘is she done yet? Are you finished yet?’”she said. “That happened three or four times before they finally came back and said, ‘ok, well she’s got to go.’”

Madie at Special Olympics this last May.
Both parents found out what had happened when they arrived at the emergency room at GSMC-Marshall. Madie had slipped out of the house and wandered into the swimming pool – alone. By the time she was discovered in the pool, several minutes had elapsed.

The exact amount of time Madie spent floating unconscious in the swimming pool isn’t known.

“We can only estimate…anywhere from 15-20 minutes,” Matt said. “No one really knows.”

Medical personnel told her parents that the brain ceases to function usually after seven minutes without oxygen. Using that as a gauge, for all intents and purposes, Madie drowned that day in the swimming pool.

But medical personnel managed to stabilize her, despite the odds, long enough to allow Children’s Medical Hospital from Dallas to send a life-flight aircraft to Marshall. Kristin was the only parent allowed to ride in the aircraft with Madie back to Dallas, and Matt was preparing to follow them via car until some of his high school friends secured a private plane that allowed him to literally follow Kristin and Madie in the air.

Things looked dark and bleak for the Skinners that day, which still remains a blur for a mom who simply wanted to see her little girl open her eyes again.

“I don’t really remember much of what happened that day, to this day,” says Kristin. “All I know is that I was at the hospital and people kept telling me how sorry they were for us, for Madie. I finally had to just tell them to please stop telling me they were sorry, that I didn’t need to hear that. All I wanted was to get Madie where she needed to be so we could take care of her.”

The staff at Children’s in Dallas cared for Madie around the clock for the next 2 ½ months. Matt and Kristin were told on several occasions that the brain damage suffered by the oxygen loss was anywhere from manageable to irreversable. They received so many medical opinions from different doctors throughout their stay that they finally began to tune most of it out.

“It got to a point where all I wanted to say to anyone was that I don’t care what the odds are, Madie is going to be that kid that everyone talks about as a miracle,” Kristin said. “Madie was going to make it and be a miracle.”

The days were long at first. The baby was unconscious for most of her early stay but Matt remembers a time late one night after a few days in Dallas in which a nurse woke him up from her bedside.

Make-A-Wish helped Madie meet Mickey Mouse recently.
“She called me over and said that she wanted me to see this,” Matt remembers. “I looked and Madie had opened her eyes and was looking around the room. She had the most beautiful baby blue eyes before the accident but at that moment her eyes were dark, a much different color. We didn’t know if she could even see us, so I just leaned over and started talking to her in her ear.”

As the days progressed, Madie continued to defy the odds and predictions. The critical 72-hour period passed and she began to be able to periodically breathe without being intubated. On the fifth day, she had her first seizure – a big seizure that did more damage to her and required her to be re-intubated. That proved to be the only seizure she experienced for years following the accident.

She also went through a period of “neuro-storming,” a process in which the brain, after it has been basically shut off for a period of time, begins to fire back up similar to the reboot of a computer. At that point, basically every part of Madie’s body and every nerve ending began to “fire off” again, which created long periods of deep, prolonged pain for the little girl.

“If she was awake, she was screaming, and sweating, and flexing every muscle in her body,” Kristin recalls. “That went on for months. She took so much medicine over that time, antibiotics, pain medication, all of it.”

Eventually Madie progressed to a point where she began therapy, and at that point Matt and Kristin – who had been at her bedside every minute since the accident until that point – began switching off week-to-week. The intent was to have someone with Madie all the time while also having someone at home with Molly Michael, to give their oldest daughter some semblance of normalcy at the beginning of the school year.

Madie with Winnie the Pooh at Disney
Coming Home
Madie’s fight continued into November, and she progressed enough in her recovery to be able to finally be released from Children’s just before Thanksgiving. At that point, the Skinners began the process of adjusting from a “normal” family life to one with a child who, just months earlier, and been just another one-year old to one with that child now having special needs and requiring extra care.

But that didn’t matter to them, or their friends, or the Marshall community. Madie was home. Madie had fought and defied the odds. The Skinners and their host of friends began celebrating every day, because “it was another day with Madie in it,” Kristin said.

At that point, Matt and Kristin also began formulating a plan as to returning Madie – and Molly Michael, for that matter – to a sense of peace and normalcy. They had watched their baby fight, make progress, suffer setbacks, and then fight some more. They had seen her improve through her therapy, and she began to make strides – some small, some large – over the next several months. Her constant progress energized them even more, and Kristin kept going back to what she told the doctors through first traumatic hours and days following the accident…

“Madie is going to be one of those miracle stories everybody will talk about.”

Months passed, and the Skinners fell into a routine of family – including countless hours with Madie at the doctor’s office for checkups and endless sessions of various therapy.

Summer was fast approaching.

A Dip In the Water
As the oldest child of Matt and Kristin Skinner, Molly Michael has never been afraid of the water. Her parents note that she began swimming at an early age and that she has developed such a love for it that she competes regularly as a young fourth grader.

One of their questions during the recovery process with Madie was, how would the accident affect Molly Michael in regards to swimming?

Maddie back in the pool with swim teacher Charisma Rosenquist.
“We just decided to let her decide on her own,” Matt said. “If she wanted to ask questions, we would answer them. But we wanted to do everything we could to encourage her and show her that she didn’t have to be afraid of the water, that what happened to her baby sister was an unfortunate accident.”

So the Skinners were determined to return to the pool. Molly Michael kept on swimming and loving it, and Matt and Kristin admit that it was almost like a healing experience. Surprisingly, they had no reservations about swimming or swimming pools or enjoying typical, everyday summer activities.

But what about Madie…?

“We did not see any hesitation or fear from Madie around a swimming pool or water,” Kristin said. “We followed her lead. Our goal as her parents is to let her know that she is capable of doing anything she wants to do, and that includes getting in the water. If she wanted to get in the swimming pool, we were going to do everything we could to make sure she had no fears.”

So the summer of 2011 – less than a year after she was retrieved, unconscious, from a swimming pool and literally having her life hanging in the balance – two-year-old Madie Skinner began taking swimming lessons.

And now, five years later, she continues taking lessons. Her teacher the last few years has been Charisma Rosenquist, of Charisma’s Safe Splash Swim School. Matt and Kristin rave about her ability to connect with Madie both in the pool and out.

Madie and Charisma having more fun at swimming lessons.
“Madie would swim every day if she could,” Kristin said. “She loves to just dip her face in the water and sometimes drinks too much of it, of course, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to try new things in the pool. She is just a determined kid who doesn’t believe there is anything she can’t do.

“Of course, an adult is always in the pool with her and she uses devices and other things to help her, but she is swimming. That’s one thing we have learned from all of this and stress to other parents, it literally only takes a second for you to turn your back for accidents to happen. We are not afraid of anything, and Madie isn’t afraid of anything around a pool, but we also understand that as parents we have to always watch and be aware. I think most parents understand that but sometimes we forget. It only takes a second if you are not careful,” she added.

Matt remembers the looks he got when people realized that his nearly-drowned daughter was back in the water.

“Some people thought we were crazy, some people probably said things that really don’t matter,” he said. “She is our daughter, and we make decisions based on what is best for her. Madie wanted to swim, so we let her swim. We take her to all kinds of therapy and MISD has been great for her at school, we love MISD. If she wasn’t showing improvement, then we may have not made some of the decisions. But she improves. She’s constantly getting better. So we keep going to therapy. And, she’s improving as a swimmer. Every year she does something in the pool that just blows us away.”

Today, Madie requires some help standing and will usually be seen in a wheelchair at school. She does not communicate verbally but can hear and understand every word that is spoken to her. She has also begun learning sign language, and she can certainly communicate with a big, wide, wonderful smile.

Her parents continue to encourage her and her sister to smile as much as they can. Even around the swimming pool, which is still a subject that Matt and Kristin have to sometimes tip-toe around quietly but in a very positive way.

“She doesn’t miss a word, so if we don’t want to get her too excited, we have to now spell the word S-W-I-M,” Matt said. “Otherwise, she’ll have us going to the pool all day every day.”

That's a price the Skinners are happy to pay for enjoying another day with Madie.

-- Story by David Weaver/MISD Public Relations