Briarcrest boys bowling coach Jason Ellis remembers when he was interviewing girls bowling coach Rick Orr during an interview session at the school.
Ellis looked out into the audience and noticed every single student at the high school was locked into what Orr had to say.
That’s Orr’s effect on anyone he’s come across.
Whether it be at the bowling alley as a coach or in the classroom as an educator, everybody listens to Orr.
Orr is authentic and raw when he speaks as a cancer survivor. And the strength he shows in class and at the bowling alley, even on his worst days, is the courage it takes to leave a lasting impact.
Orr was named the this year’s recipient of the Courage Award at the annual Memphis Area High School Sports Awards presented by Farm Bureau Health Plans held at Orpheum Theatre.
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“Rick is one of those guys that he has the wisdom of life,” Ellis said, “and he’s going through a difficult season and the athletes and his students in class can tell that even though there’s days where it’s a struggle for Rick to want to be at school, he wants to be there.”
He’s currently going through his second stint of kidney cancer after losing a kidney 20 years ago. When he got his first kidney removed, the cancer wasn’t expected to return. It wasn’t until the fall of 2019 when his doctor disclosed the news.
Orr missed the next few months of school, going through surgery to repair the kidney before it was eventually removed and then beginning treatment. He was able to return to campus just before spring break in 2020, then school let out due to COVID-19.
The following school year when Briarcrest returned to in-person learning, he realized just how long this journey was going to be.
“I was trying to do bowling at the same time and (dialysis); it’s difficult,” he said. “It wears you out, it really does.”
He has been doing dialysis for three days a week, after school for four hours. Because of that, he’s not able to be at all the events he wished he could. He hasn’t been to a football game in four years and he misses most sporting events.
Yet even on Orr’s worse days, he still tries to keep a positive mindset.
“I love the kids so much and it gives a lot of meaning to my life so I just want to be there,” Orr said. “And be a positive influence and want to tell them about Jesus Christ.”
It’s why he wanted to get into being the bowling coach in the first place.
Ivy Hogan, a rising senior and bowler at Briarcrest, first with Orr in class. He encouraged her to join the bowling team this past year.
“He’s been a really good mentor to me and encouraging me,” Hogan said. “Coach Orr is very unique because he really communicates with students outside the classroom.”
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And that’s part of the legacy he hopes to continue to leave when he steps away from coaching and teaching. The support he’s received the last few years through his second battle with kidney cancer is a reminder of why he continues to keep a positive mindset.
He could easily sulk, use it as an excuse and look at the negatives.
“I’ve gotten text messages from kids that said, ‘You’ll never know how much it’s impacted me watching you go through this and how you’ve done it.’ That would be the impact I want to have,” Orr said.
Ellis sees just how important Orr is to the Briarcrest community. He’s seen the bowling program continue to grow because students want to be around Orr. They want to learn from him.
“I’ve heard so many students tell me this personally, they told me they just see Rick having joy in the midst of trials,” Ellis said.
“I think they’re going to look back at the time they got to spend with Rick and I think they’re going to remember that because of Christ, Rick had joy in the midst of suffering.”
Reach Wynston Wilcox at email@example.com and on Twitter @wynstonw_†