SHHS athlete of year overcame senior year setbacks
By Jeff Keeling
Two weeks after Science Hill’s fall formal, senior Max Vaughn was lying in a hospital bed, on his way to losing 32 pounds secondary to a ruptured appendix. A fifth year of varsity wrestling looked highly unlikely, and his parents, Chris and Anne, were just happy their younger son was going to recover.
In late May, following a run to the state tournament in the 132-pound weight class and a trip to the state soccer semifinals as a defender on one of Science Hill’s best-ever teams, Vaughn accepted the school’s 2014 athlete of the year award.
“I was pretty surprised,” Vaughn said of the award, given annually to a senior whose entire athletic and academic career is taken into account.
Vaughn, who plans to major in international business and minor in Spanish at East Tennessee State University, earned a 3.8 GPA while taking numerous honors classes. He wrestled varsity from 8th grade on, compiling a 177-50 record and reaching the state quarterfinals twice.
“I don’t think that a cross word has ever passed between Max and me the whole time I’ve known him,” Science Hill assistant (and former head) coach Jeff Price said. “I was especially pleased with his attitude this year. He could have used the difficulties he faced this fall as an excuse for some of the adversity he encountered on the mat, but he never did.”
Vaughn, who plans to walk on at ETSU and try for a spot on the varsity soccer team, said his best memory of high school wrestling isn’t from his furthest run in the state tournament. Instead, he said, it came from the mere fact that he was able to compete his senior year after doctors said it may not happen.
Vaughn said he started having bad stomach pain the night of the fall formal dance, and went to the hospital. He was sent home, and couldn’t walk the next day due to the pain. Ultimately, his appendicitis went undetected for three days, and peritonitis had set in from the ruptured appendix.
“The surgeon said it was the worst case she’d ever seen,” Vaughn said. “I dropped from 150 pounds down to about 118.
“The wrestling coaches came and visited me in the hospital. They told me how much of a big part I’d been on the team and that they were not going to give up on me being a part of the team this year. So, while I didn’t feel great by the time the season started, just being able to compete this year was probably my best memory from my wrestling career.”
Price said while Vaughn probably didn’t progress as much athletically as he might have his senior year, he experienced a more important kind of growth.
“I think the extraordinary progress he made this year was in his growth of character,” Price said. “He faced unavoidable suffering in a positive way, and he grew up quite a lot. He’ll need that character a great deal more than any wrestling accomplishments.”
Vaughn started wrestling when he was an elementary schooler at St. Mary’s, but he said eight years of gymnastics from age 3 to 11 probably helped lay the groundwork for his wrestling skills. He is close to his wrestling coaches and teammates, and said he’s probably a better wrestler than soccer player, but soccer appeals more to him at this point.
“I played a couple of years in parks and rec, but started taking it seriously in eighth grade,” he said of soccer. He made varsity as a sophomore and started his final two years. His best memory of playing under coach Brandon Kind also isn’t about a trip to state, though the team made a couple while he was there. Instead, it was about rivalry.
“Last season (2013) when we beat Dobyns-Bennett in the regional finals after they already beat us 5-1 twice earlier in the year.”
Vaughn said he’ll carry numerous life lessons with him from his years of sport at Science Hill.
“What I’ve learned gives me determination to not give up even if something gets hard. It’s only short-term pain and it will be over soon enough. You’ve got to just fight through it and keep doing what you’re doing.”