Once every year a South Whidbey senior is chosen by the South Whidbey School District to be featured in the hometown hero series. This year Lewis Pope was chosen.
Alone we cannot do nearly as much as we can together.
Eddie and Bridget Sergeant, volunteer coaches, speak to an example of Lewis’ team spirit. “We remember one basketball game when near the end of the game it appeared victory for South Whidbey was out of reach. In the final minutes, Lewis was on the bench comforting his teammates and encouraging those still on the court. In Lewis’ own deep disappointment, he was not hanging his head and focusing on himself.”
Another illustration where Lewis shared this team fellowship comes from big sister Samantha Pope.
“Lewis never talks about himself, so we hear about him from others,” she says. “My brother has been called, ‘One of the greats that has played for South Whidbey.’ But you will never hear that from him. A teacher mentioned to my mom that she observed Lewis practicing basketball during lunch, when he noticed some special needs students watching him. Lewis invited the students to come play with him. Later those students bragged about how they beat Lewis Pope on the court.”
Uplifting others is a way of life for Pope.
“A perfect day cannot just be about myself,” he says. “What feels good is encouraging another person, or including someone that might feel left out.
“If we witness someone being made fun of or being bullied,” he added, “we can step in and be a friend to that person. Or if it’s cyber bullying, do what we can to befriend that person. I don’t think some people think about the effects and consequences the severity of making fun of someone can cause.”
Pope wants to do what he can to help everyone feel welcome.
“High school teacher Charlie Davies optimizes this everyday,” he says. “Mr. Davies is an influential teacher and guy. He teaches with life advice included. Everyday you can see him talking to kids outside of class to encourage someone or let them know they are not alone.”
Of course there are times when there is an agreement to make fun of each other.
“My sisters always keep me grounded and tease me a little bit,” Pope remarks as he smiles at his sisters.
His sisters retort, with out-loud laughter, “‘Lewis thinks it’s his job to tease us.”
Lots of laughter around the table, the family loves to tease each other in good fun.
Pope says he is really fortunate to live in this community and to be part of the family he has. He says he knows a lot of peers do not have supportive families. He encourages them to read positive biographies and to search out a role model.
“Family is more then just DNA,” he says. “It’s the people that will help, support and love you through the good and the bad.”
Pope mentions mentors like Michael Washington (high school resource teacher and head basketball coach). “He has been a huge mentor and encourager to many in the school including myself,” Pope says.
Entering the Pope extended family home, you are ushered in by two very friendly large dogs, Julius, and Harper, and a petite cat, Artemis. Lewis’ mom Teresa is all hugs and smiles, as is the entire family. They all sit at the dining room table, one end stacked high with board games. Along with Lewis and his mom are sisters Samantha and Taylor, who live and work in Bothell but can’t stay away from the family home. There’s also Teresa’s mom, Lenora, and brother Bill. The one that is missing is Henry, the kid’s dad, and Teresa’s husband. Henry passed away suddenly from a heart attack in 2013.
“Lewis was 13 when dad passed away,” Samantha says. “He was just 4 years old when doctors thought we would lose mom after she had a ruptured aneurysm.”
The family remarks how that experience bolstered their faith in God and brought them all even closer — which helped them when they lost Henry.
Lenora Eckert, who has lived with the Popes since 1998 when her husband Marley passed away, says, “Lewis is the kindest young man I know, he is so much like his dad.”
Lewis stands 6 feet 4 and has a thin frame and a gentle smile. He shrugs his shoulders when asked about himself, head down just enough, that portrays a very humble young man.
They all wear a blue and white stretch band that is inscribed with Henry’s words to his kids: God First, Family, School, Sports.
Pope says, “We all miss dad everyday, I think of him all the time. But I don’t want to dwell on the sadness of his loss. I think of how lucky I am to have him as my dad, and remember all the good times, and all that he taught me.”
As Artemis the cat jumps on the table, Pope gently picks her up and cradles her like a baby. “I try not to dwell on regrets either,” he said. “Thinking about stuff I can’t control will take away from my life even more than it already had.”
He says he knows he’s blessed to have his mom still here and his family. “Dad is with me every day, I want to live what’s important in life in the order of dad’s words on our bracelets.”
Pope has a near perfect GPA. He practices basketball two hours a day but spends a lot more time on his studies.
“Mom and dad taught us good work ethics,” he says. “I often think about how hard mom worked and struggled after her aneurysm, to re-learn everything she had been taught as a child, starting with using a fork. She never once whined, she still gets headaches everyday but never complains and is always there for all of us.”
Pope wants to do something that can help society. He believes that bio-medical 3D printing can save lives by making organs. So he’s hoping to go after a bio-medical engineering degree.
Owners of Mukilteo Coffee Roasters Gary and Beth Smith have known Lewis most of his life. “Our son Lake is good friends with Lewis, and Lewis is exactly the friend you would want for your son or daughter. Everyone knows he is a great athlete and his basketball skills are fantastic! But it goes much deeper than that, he brings a purity to the game. He always gives credit to others. He’s an amazing student, role model and leader. Lewis is the epitome of a hometown hero, a true gentlemen, humble, kind, smart, family-oriented and team player on and off the court.”
Here’s what others have to say about Lewis:
“This young man has always been a team player in all aspects of life and when you play on his team you are always a winner too. He loves life and anyone who touches him has his full special attention and respect. You will not only see this on the court when he plays ball but in his connections with classmates, teachers, friends and community.
He is a remarkable caring young man who will always bring joy into this world.”
“I can’t think of a better person to be chosen Hometown Hero than Lewis Pope. One of the most amazing things about Lewis is his infectious joyousness. Lewis is always happy, always smiling and always positive. I don’t care how difficult your day was, five minutes around Lewis and your worries kind of melt away. He is a young man who is above petty worries and has the most incredible perspective I have ever seen in a teenager. He truly understands what is important in his life and doesn’t let minor nuisances cloud his cheerful demeanor.
Lewis, I am blessed to have known you as a boy. I am a better person having watched you grow up. I am humbled to know you as the man you have become. You have brought great honor to yourself, to your family, and most of all, to your father. You are a man of faith. You are a man of dignity and distinction. You are a man that I will always love and admire. We all look upon you with great eagerness and high expectation for all of your future endeavors.”
Major Rich Peace
U.S. Air Force
“Lewis Pope is an amazing human being! Despite being 22 years my junior, he is my hero. He has had to deal with a tremendous amount of adversity throughout his life. Despite this, he always has a smile on his face, a gentle soul and an infectious spirit. a man anyone would be proud of. I look forward to his future endeavors!”
William J. Peace, M.D.
Major, U.S. Air Force
“Lewis a very nice and intelligent young man. He has very high character and genuinely cares about everyone he comes in contact with. Since the first day I met Lewis in 2014, he has been nothing but spectacular as a person, student and athlete. Lewis is constantly looking to assist his classmates and teammates. Additionally, he volunteers daily to help students in special services by helping to create and implement an adaptive PE program.
Lewis is one of the most talented, respectful and hardworking student athletes I have ever known. When communicating with or teaching him during practice, competition or in class, his response is always ‘yes coach’ or ‘no coach,’ which also proves his desire to be the best he can be. Lewis is extremely intelligent, a very quick learner, a good teacher and is very good with attention to detail.
It has been an absolute honor to coach him these past four years and I am truly blessed. I will miss him each day but he has a bright future on and off the court.”
South Whidbey High School resource teacher, head boys’ basketball coach
“I have watched and admired Lewis over the years. Lewis has an amazing ability to positively connect with his peers and adults. In my long career of working with students, Lewis Pope stands out. Lewis is cool! Watching him move throughout the campus, he has the respect of his peers and school staff alike. He seems a bit shy if you don’t know him but in reality he is just humble. He is always upbeat, positive, optimistic and truly connected with his classmates and his school. His teachers and coaches speak of him with the highest regard. They say that he is a great student, a hard worker, asks good questions, and from the classroom to the lunchroom to the gym, he adds positively to whatever environment he is in. Lewis has a tenacious work ethic; just ask his basketball coach, Mike Washington. I’ll never forget the last day of 8th grade football. Two minutes after the banquet ended, there was Lewis, shooting baskets while waiting for his mom. Lewis is one of the greatest role models that South Whidbey School District and the local community has ever seen. GOOD JOB MOM AND DAD!”