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Remembering Dylan: Gym won't change name, but KHS youth won't be forgotten

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

A heartfelt, tearful and compassionate conversation unfolded at last Tuesday’s Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corp. Board meeting.

Two things became abundantly clear following the dramatic discussion: while the Knightstown High School gymnasium won’t be named in his honor, student Dylan Hiner will not be forgotten. 

All of the seven board members said Dylan was a remarkable young man whose memory should be honored in some way. Yet none thought the high school gym should be named after him, as suggested last month by Dawn Wineman.

A petition to name the high school gym after Hiner – a popular athlete here who died tragically in May 4, 2017 traffic accident at the age of 17 – featured more than 260 signatures. Canvassing for signers had already started before family members knew the petition was out there. Wineman emphasized she heard nothing negative about the idea.

Nikki Walters, Dylan’s aunt, spoke eloquently about the way he lived his life.

“Dylan did everything the right way,” Walters said. “He worked for success. He never made excuses. He did it without drugs and alcohol. He mentored kids and peers along his journey. He found a way to put in the work, no matter the circumstance. He always had a smile on his face and was an optimist.

“Dylan was a kid I want my kids to be like,” Walters added. “I want them to grow up, work hard and chase their dreams. In Dylan’s eyes, there was no limit.”

Supporters also stressed that Dylan was a great influence on younger kids in the Knightstown area and actually keeps on giving to this day. He was an organ donor.

“He gave the opportunity for someone to see again,” Walters said, “possibly play sports again and even keep someone’s heart beating.”

But one-by-one, board members agreed that while Hiner should, indeed, be remembered, this wasn’t the best way.

“I understand, I really do, the heartfelt emotion involved in this,” School Board President Wade Beatty said. “I also have lost a child. I also believe you guys won’t hear the negative comments from the community because it is such an emotionally charged issue. I have. The concern is what about the 16 other kids we have lost who were athletes, either tennis, basketball or football? What do we do for those kids? Personally, after listening to many members of the community, I cannot be in favor of this. I’m sorry.”

Likewise, veteran Beard School Board member Gerald Leonard said he would never forget Hiner but could not support naming the gym after him.

“I have always been and will always be a proud Knightstown Panther,” Leonard said. “I have followed Knightstown basketball for many years and enjoyed watching Dylan play. He truly loved the game of basketball. The tragic accident that took his life was devastating and I am deeply sorry for Kevin, Donna and the extended Hiner family, the students and staff of Knightstown and the community. I know that my granddaughter was a friend of Dylan and still mourns his loss but finds comfort in the memories she has of him.

“Unfortunately, Knightstown has been affected by this type of loss too many times,” Leonard said. “My daughter lost four classmates before she graduated, two of which were very close friends of hers. None of them will we ever forget. I know he is deeply missed and I also know he will never be forgotten.”

Board members Graham Richardson and John Schwartz said the idea, while noble, is not something that could be done without serious thought.

“I just think it sets a precedent we don’t want to do,” Schwartz said. “I would much rather see Dylan honored with a scholarship in his name.”

Board member Suzee Neal, who, like Beatty, said she, too, has suffered the loss of a child, understood the desire of family and friends to memorialize Hiner.

“I know this pain firsthand,” she said. “I don’t think I will ever recover from the loss. I don’t think the Hiner family will either. However, I’ve been in this community long enough to remember not just Dylan Hiner. In the last month, I took time to seek out 10 families of deceased children.”

Neal’s list included an “amazing artist,” and “tennis players with bright, promising futures” as well as a student who, in 13 years of school, “never once had an absence or a tardy.” All met untimely deaths.

“God created them all equally and I feel we must remember them all equally,” Neal said.

Board members Tom Schaetzle and Steve Ferrell encouraged supporters of Dylan Hiner to explore other ways to honor his memory, such as retiring his jersey number and presenting it to the family.

Afterward, Walter said the Hiner family respects the board’s decision. A scholarship is already given in Dylan’s name. In fact, the 2nd annual Dylan Hiner Scholarship Golf Outing is scheduled Saturday, May 11, at Memorial Park. 

“We were a little disheartened he was not honored during his senior season,” Walter said. “We welcome the support to honor him in a special way.”

While it was an emotional night for all, Beard Supt. Jediah Behny said the meeting had a community glow to it, because of its non-confrontational, very respectful tone on a difficult issue.

“As a superintendent in a situation like that, I was extremely impressed with the community members’ due diligence in presenting this idea,” Behny said of supporters of the gym name change. “I was extremely impressed with the people who spoke. I was also impressed with the school board member responses. It was all done in such a respectful way.”