Heritage kids overcome obstacles for a cause

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Heritage High School students honored one of their own April 18 in an unconventional but creative event that included marshmallows, dancing teachers, head shaving, jet packs, vampires, soldiers and tennis balls. Lots and lots of tennis balls.

It was the Lone Survivor Obstacle Course, part of the school’s always successful MAD Week. “MAD” stands for “Make a Difference,” and they’ve definitely done that.

“Few schools in America can boast of the kind of philanthropic global engagement that MAD Week has become for HHS,” said Shelley Youngkin, student chair of community relations.

She said the Heritage community has raised more than $115,000 since 2006. They helped a young girl through Make-A-Wish and built an addition to a school for India’s “untouchables.” Over the last five years, they’ve actually constructed an entire school, Heritage High School of Kabala in Sierra Leone, Africa.

This year they chose to honor Danny Dietz, a Navy SEAL who graduated from Heritage in 1999. Dietz died on a mountain in Afghanistan in 2005, in a hail of enemy fire.

The students are hoping to raise $13,000 for two nonprofits with ties to Dietz: The Danny Dietz Leadership and Training Foundation is run by Danny Dietz Sr. at Littleton’s YMCA, and the Lone Survivor Foundation is run by Marcus Luttrell, the only survivor of the attack.

Dietz Sr. said he’s glad a new generation is hearing his son’s story.

“Getting the message to kids and having them work for something like this, I think, is a step forward for our country,” he said.

The obstacle course was student Nate Novotny’s idea, in keeping with the military theme. They even invited people now in the military to judge the contest.

“Heritage students are the best,” said Todd Ellis, U.S. Navy. “We have Heritage High School grads out in the fleet right now, serving this country and seeing the world.”

Teacher Justin Riffle kicked things of by letting the students choose his new hairstyle – mohawk, mullet or poof. They chose the latter — here’s hoping his hair grows quickly.

Then teachers Brittmarie Solis and Amanda Glerup fired up the crowd, showing off their Timberlake moves to the beat of “Bye, Bye, Bye.”

“Nothing like public humiliation for your teachers,” noted Allison Smith, MAD Week’s teacher adviser.

For the main event, one faculty team joined 16 creatively dressed student teams to build marshmallow towers, fling tennis balls and all manner of unorthodox team-building challenges.

“It was more challenging than I thought,” said Gus Nemechek, whose team dressed in half shirts, short shorts and sweatbands reminiscent of the early ’80s.

“You use your head way more than your body,” agreed Matthew Buszkiewic.

One team dressed as vampires, and the P.Orbitals tye-dyed team sported jet packs made out of soda bottles. The “Fast, Faster, Fastest and Ben” team competed against the “Armed Bears” and the “Staph Neto Ifcins” (hint: it’s an anagram).

Smith couldn’t contain her pride in all the students who competed or just came out to watch.

“I think that when I became a teacher, I knew I wanted to teach high-school kids about literature,” said Allison Smith. “But I wasn’t expecting to learn so much about myself from them.”