By: Jim Cheney
Back in the 90’s, I had a couple of friends who were coaches at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. I would go visit them from time to time. Driving onto the campus, you were met by a teacher or security guard and you had to explain why you were there or you were told to leave. If you didn’t, the police were called and they dealt with you. It didn’t matter how many times I visited, this was par for the course. They took school security very seriously.
The few times I did visit, it was always relaxed and jovial inside the coaches’ office. I do remember meeting a kid, a student, I won’t call him a teacher’s pet, but he was someone who put an active interest into doing more than just showing up for class, participating in a sport, and then going home. I’ll call him a ‘coaches’ aide’. His name was Aaron Feis.
Aaron played varsity football at Douglas and helped the junior varsity coach too. He was always active with the team.
After graduation, Aaron stayed on at Douglas as a coach and worked odd jobs around town. If you have ever been to Coral Springs, Florida, you’ll know that there are many, many pizza places around town. Aaron worked at a place called Annie’s. This man-made some of the best pizza I have ever had in Florida. His Calzone and Stromboli were second to none. He left there and went to work for another place, so my allegiances followed him there.
This next place was hit or miss, because sometimes after I would eat, I’d spend it in the bathroom with the worst diarrhea. I called Aaron one day to find out what was going on. He told me when the owner was cooking, he threw all the grease from the meat in with the sauce, therefore causing my explosive reaction. I only ordered from that place when I knew Aaron was cooking. Ahh….I can still taste his wonderful cooking. The man had a true gift of culinary creations.
Fast forward to one day at the local watering hole I frequented for many years and Aaron showed up. I’m in my early forties and was cut and strong as an ox. I thought I was invincible. A little too much drink made my ego inflate and my otherwise intelligent thought process diminish greatly.
Now, Aaron would be considered portly and judging a book by it’s cover, I assumed that he, being an offensive lineman in football could never block me, as I loved the role of a defenseman when I played pick-up football in the past. My mouth kept writing check after check with a drunken confidence that I would prevail in a one-on-one stand-off with him. Sure enough, right there, in the middle of the bar, we squared off against one another. I could slowly feel my confidence begin to seep out of me as the usual deadpan demeanor of Aaron turned into a slight smile. I could almost see smoke beginning to blow out from his nostrils. This quiet, reserved, round-bellied man was transforming into a combination of a Brahma bull with a side of pit bull.
What had I gotten myself into?
Well, I’ve already ran my mouth too much, so it was time to put up or back down like a pussy. That ain’t happening. I preplanned my attack and knew if I stood him up, he would be easily moved from one side to another and I could pass easily. Good plan.
Or so I thought.
Backtracking for just a moment or two here, when I walked through the high school halls, on my way to the coaches’ office, there were always these very large men with full beards and massive hulking bodies. I asked the coach if his team was scrimmaging against a college team. He told me that these were his regular high school players. What? These guys were huge. They were in high school? No way. So, Aaron squared off against these behemoths on a daily basis?
Someone yelled “Go” and my plan went all to hell. Aaron never stood up. He just drove his legs into mine and stayed low….driving….driving…until he stood me up….over and backwards. He put me into the footrest of the bar which was tiled and hard as a rock. My spine, however, was not made of sterner stuff. It f%&king hurt. He stood above me with that same self-assured smile, then stuck out his hand to help ‘the old man’ up.
Never judge a book by its cover.
They say that the definition of insanity is to keep repeating the same mistake over and over, expecting a different result. I now know that I am not insane. Once was fine for me. Thank you.
Once Aaron met the love of his life, his bar time dwindled to almost nil. He was dedicated to his family, and hangin’ with the boys was not in his repertoire. Occasionally, he would come in during the day with another coach, or pop in to hang with his brother once in a great while.
That’s another funny story. I had met Aaron’s father and he was just the coolest guy. Great sense of humor and loved his boy more than anything. One day, I walked in and saw a slimmer version of Aaron. I wanted to approach him and tell him how great he looked having lost so much weight. Well, that was his brother, Ray. Damn, they looked like twins. They acted the same, too. What a great family these people are.
Fast forward again to this past week at Stoneman Douglas High School. Aaron was the go-to guy when college scouts would come by looking for fresh high school talent to recruit for their universities. That is one awesome responsibility. You can make or break a future just through your recommendation. He was meeting with a couple of recruiters, which I believe they were from Massachusetts when he got the call. Someone said that they thought they heard firecrackers and someone quoted Aaron as saying “That’s not firecrackers”.
Like the true first responder he was, Aaron ran into the mêlée. I watched an interview with a kid who said Aaron stopped and shoved him into a classroom before continuing his pursuit of the perpetrator. I’ve been on the receiving side of that shove and the kid may have some bruising, but will live to tell the story. That slight hesitation from pushing that kid that was caught in the crosshairs of a deranged and very troubled youth was just enough to make Aaron turn from a possible victor into just another victim. This piece of shit shot projectiles into a man who made it his life’s work to stand and protect the very same children this monster was attempting to destroy. A few seconds earlier, this boy would have felt that same, if not more, pure unstoppable power that most likely would have ended his murderous rampage before more innocent lives were taken away. Aaron probably taken a few ribs out in the meantime, too.
In the wake of all those wonderful, innocent children, whose lives were selfishly stolen from them by this misguided and self-seeking youth, the fact remains that Aaron will not be around to have a beer with. His wife and beautiful daughter will have to grow up in a world in which he no longer belongs to. His brother will fill in as much as possible, because the little I know about the man, Ray is that kind of man and would honor his brother in any way possible and take care of Aaron’s family. This is what a family does.
I can think of no greater horror than what transpired at Stoneman Douglas High School this past week. The tears that flowed out of me could never match those of the families that lost their own children. The nightmares of the ones that survived, I hope, will subside eventually and some form of normalcy will prevail.
I know the word ‘Hero’ gets tossed around like candy these days. Football players are not heroes. Movie stars are not heroes. A true hero is one that puts all else in front of themselves. My friend Aaron Feis is a true American hero. I am honored to have known him. My life is richer having known him. My hope is that more of us don’t have to sacrifice our lives to be heroes to our children. My mom and mad are my true heroes. I know what they went through to raise my brother and I. Life was never easy for them, yet they did what they had to do to raise us the best way they knew how. What the world needs now is more heroes in the times when they are not recognized as such. It’s the everyday dealings that make you a hero to your children….not the extreme ones.
It has truly been an honor to have known you and only hope that by your example of selflessness, that we can begin the healing process that has already begun to tear this country apart. Rest in peace, sir.
The viewing for Aaron Feis will be on Tuesday February 20, 5: p.m – 9 p.m. Church by the Glades. Service on Thursday Feb 22, 11 a.m. Church by the Glades 400 Lake view Drive Coral Springs.