Byron Jones, 14, of Van, was diagnosed with Leukemia in January. Junior high principal Jason Johnson said Byron's math teacher Amy Briggs approached him after the Christmas break with concerns.
“She told me he just didn't look right. He didn't look like the same kid, so we shared with his family that we were concerned with his health,” Johnson said. “They said he had been battling the flu and felt like he was having a hard time getting over it. We could tell he wasn't the same young man we had grown accustomed to seeing.”
Teacher Paige Redmond said students and staff immediately began looking for ways to help Byron's family.
“The kids came to school one day and said, 'let's do a fundraiser,' and we just kind of started putting our heads together,” Ms. Redmond said. “It started out with us sitting at a basketball game with a bucket asking for cash. Then it started I thought if I made T-shirts maybe people would buy it.”
Dylan Sims, 13, of Lindale, heard about Byron from his father who is friends with a teacher at Van Junior High School. Sims said his father suggested he could give up his football autographed by recent Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
“I thought it would be a good idea, so I went home and I thought about it a little bit and, I said yes,” Sims said.
The ball brought $2,500 in a silent auction last week, and during the course of three weeks, more than 300 “P4B” or “Pray for Byron” T-shirts have been sold for $15 apiece.
A seventh-grader paid for 100 “I Support Byron Jones” bracelets to be made which are selling for $5 apiece.
Johnson said the shirts have become a new fashion trend, and the school is usually a sea of black shirts each Thursday in support of when Byron receives his cancer treatments.
A blood drive was held in Byron's honor at the school Tuesday. Byron and his family were presented a $7,000 check and gift cards to help with expenses driving back and forth to Children's Medical Center in Dallas for treatments.
And Sims got to meet the boy his football donation helped.
“Its' been fun because I got to meet Byron, and I got to come here,” Sims said. “I got to leave school early. I was kind of scared at first I thought I was in trouble, but I'll take coming here to meet Byron over trouble.”
Byron, who played several sports, was welcomed by his teammates. It was the first time he had been back to school since he getting sick, and the gym was full of people dropping by just to say hello to their friend.
“It's something to be thankful about,' Byron said. “I won't say it's overwhelming, because they are trying to help you, but I'm really thankful.”
Byron said he likely will not be back to school until next year. He said a bone marrow donor has been found, and the procedure will be done next month in Dallas.
Following the procedure, he will remain in the hospital for a month and then will have weekly checkups. He will then have to stay at home because of potential infection concerns.
Byron said he looks forward to coming back to school.
“You'd think being a kid … you'd want to stay at home, but it's not that fun,” he said. “I want to get out and do something.”
While Byron is healing, Redmond said the school will continue to raise money to help his family. She said a couple from Troup donated an autographed Edward Jasper jersey from his days with the Atlanta Falcons. She said the Troup native and former Aggie also played with the Oakland Raiders.
The high school welding department also made a barbeque pit that will be auctioned.
“It makes me happy that they are doing something for him instead of just talking about it,” Byron's 15-year-old sister Amaryles Jones said. “They are actually doing something for it, and it makes me happy when I think about it.”
One of those donations came from Francis Jones, Byron's grandmother.
She said she had never donated before and was “doing it to help someone else — maybe they will benefit.”
“This community has been so good to us,” she said. “We love them all, and we try to give back in any way we can.”
Mrs. Jones said prayers would be appreciated for the family.
“Just pray and everything will be alright,” she said.