Gaither’s Colton Shepard wins hospital contest
By Kyle LoJacono
As the names of the children up for Kids are Heroes award were read Dec. 13, Gaither High senior Colton Shepard was calm because he was not expecting to win.
“We got to hear all the stories of the kids who were nominated and I didn’t think I had a chance,” Shepard said. “They read the names in alphabetical order, so when they skipped my name I was surprised because it meant I was in the top three.”
Then they announced Lutz resident Geena Allen came in third for the 13 to 18-year-old category, followed by Odessa resident Jonathon Bermudez in second. St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital has been awarding the honor each year since 1996, and Shepard is the first Gaither Cowboy to take first place.
“I was blown away,” Shepard said. “The really cool thing is patients at the hospital judge it. It’s a jury of your own peers who pick you instead of adults.”
Shepard was up for the award because his actions saved a mother and child from a burning vehicle. He was walking home from a friend’s house in June when he saw the aftermath of a car accident near the intersection of Dale Mabry and North Lakeview Drive, just south of Lutz.
The car was on fire, but that did not stop Shepard. He ran across the road, kicked in the windshield and got the mother and child out safely.
Shepard is a member of Gaither’s JROTC and he credits his quick actions with what he has learned through the program.
Shepard’s JROTC instructor Senior Chief Ed Donohue submitted Shepard’s name for the honor after learning about the award from principal Marie Whelan.
“I thought what he did was heroic,” Donohue said. “For him to put himself out like that; a lot of people wouldn’t have done that, especially a teenage kid.
“He’s done a great job for us,” Donohue continued. “He’s responsible. Volunteers a lot of his time to the unit. Makes good grades. He’s a real good kid.”
Gaither’s JROTC commanding officer Joseph Scott, a senior, said no one in the unit believed Shepard when he told them about what he did.
“We’re all really surprised when we heard what he did for that family,” Scott said. “We didn’t expect it out of him. To be that courageous to jump into action like that. When he first told us we had our doubts. We just thought he was messing around with us. He’s a comical kid and likes to joke around all the time.”
The award Shepard received for winning is sitting in one of Gaither’s trophy cases.
Shepard said he plans on attending the University of Tampa and join its ROTC program. After graduating he wants to join either the Navy or Air Force for a four-year term, and then become a law enforcement agent.
Bermudez, a senior on the Sickles High cross-country team, was nominated for the honor after he bought new running shoes for Abdin Fator, a sophomore on the squad. Fator was born in Sudan and moved to the United States in 2003. Bermudez used the money from his 17th birthday to buy Fator the new shoes and acted as a mentor for him all year.
Allen, an honor roll student, was up for the award for helping turn another child’s life around. She was asked be a teacher to check on an upset student in the restroom, and found a child had taken a large amount of medication. Allen stayed with the other girl and convinced her not only to get the medicine out of her system, but also to seek help.
More than 1,000 children from across Tampa Bay have been honored through St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Kids are Heroes program. About 100 nominations were received for the honor this year.