As school administrators filed into Cathy Lepine’s classroom at Ballenger Creek Elementary School on Friday, Tyson Parks approached a teacher.
“I want you to meet my parents,” he told math specialist Michelle Lebo. Lebo, touched by the gesture, shook Tyson’s parents’ hands and introduced herself before asking Tyson to go back to his seat.
After all, he’d want to be sitting down for this.
Principal Kristen Canning quieted the class and spoke to them about the power of words. She and Lepine mentioned a recent informational writing assignment the class had completed.
Someone’s words proved powerful.
Lepine asked the classroom if any students were fans of a certain player on the Oakland Raiders. Tyson raised his hand. He wrote his paper about Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch.
School counselor Cynthia Huntt told Tyson that the school had gotten in touch with Lynch and he read the paper. A smile slowly stretched across Tyson’s face, as Huntt asked him to stand up in front of the class. Lynch was so touched by the essay, he sent a gift and Tyson got to unwrap it in front of his classmates.
The box, wrapped in star-themed wrapping paper, fit the mantra of Ballenger Creek Elementary School, where students are encouraged to be a “STAR.”
Inside the box, Lynch and the Raiders packed a box with an autographed trophy helmet, several Raiders shirts, Raiders hats, Raiders pins, luggage tags and a backpack.
“This is the best day ever,” Tyson said to his teachers.
School has never been easy for Tyson, his teachers said. Some assignments can be grueling exercises for him. Writing on paper is a challenge, so he usually uses a computer. But the informational writing assignment proved to be a breakthrough moment for the fifth-grader.
He worked with his father, Nate, to come up with the idea for the story. In the veteran running back Lynch, Tyson found something and someone in which he was interested.
He completed the research on his own. His teachers helped him develop a graphic organizer. While he had help along the way, the words were his. And they were good.
“It’s overwhelming,” Lepine said of the moment a student overcomes challenges like Tyson had. “I’ve been teaching 33 years, and these moments top everything. He had such a rough year last year. For him to grab onto this, it’s extremely exciting.”
Lynch has become a pillar of the community in his hometown of Oakland, California. He’s known to have a particular soft spot for kids and education. He’s stated in past interviews he’ll take photos only with women and children. In 2017, he paid for haircuts for Oakland students who showed him they had a B average on their report card.
Lynch’s good grades in school — he maintained a 3.5 grade point average and scored 1200 on his SAT — coupled with his athletic ability landed him a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley.
Tyson, a noted “sports fiend” by Lepine, gained a love for Lynch’s ability on the field.
“He’s one of the strongest running backs and worked really hard to make it to the NFL,” said Tyson, wearing his new, slightly-too-big Raiders hat hanging down over his ears.
Tyson’s parents, Nate and Latarsha, expressed their pride for seeing how well Tyson did on the assignment.
“That boy got some hidden talents,” Nate said.
Latarsha said she was thankful that Lynch would take the time to respond to her son.
“It’s amazing, not only for Tyson, but that they do it for kids in general,” she said. “These kids really look up to athletes. They really do. It was amazing he took the time to read it and actually responded.”
Tyson is similar to Lynch, Latarsha said. They’re both soft-spoken. Tyson doesn’t always come out of his shell. Nate hoped Lynch’s response might get Tyson to show more of his personality going forward.
As students left the class to go to another classroom, several of Tyson’s classmates gave him hugs and congratulated him for his work.
“These kids, they can argue or whatever, but boy, will they ever stick up for each other. There wasn’t a single jealous kid in there. They were all so happy for Tyson,” Huntt said. “That says a lot about these kids.”
As Tyson handed off his box of memorabilia for his parents to take home, he walked in the hallway, still wearing his Raiders hat.
“I think we can waive the no-hat rule today,” Lepine said.