FORT MILL — Time passes, classmates graduate and people move on.
Family and close friends will always hold close the memories of the Fort Mill and Nation Ford high school student-athlete who made them laugh and reminded them that cross country running is a joy for everyone, regardless of skill level. Then, for one day out of the year, a family reunion takes place on the Anne Springs Close Greenway each May.
It’s a big family, with nearly 250 people showing up in the early morning. Most of them aren’t related, but when did that matter?
On Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Fort Mill residents young and old will come together to remember Luke Hoover for the fourth annual Luke Hoover Memorial Run. And the stories will flow.
Like the one about when Luke was in ninth grade at Fort Mill and his mother Angie gave him a pair of tennis shoes. A few weeks later, she asked where they were and her son told Angie that he had given them away to a student who didn’t have shoes.
Or the story of how he once collided into a deer in the middle of a region race, then proceeded to get up, dust himself off and still finish among the top runners.
“That’s why we say we run for ‘deer’ life,” says Mariah Emenhiser, laughing.
She ran with Luke for three years and thinks of him as a “big brother.” Emenhiser lost that big brother in October 2009, when he was killed in a car accident.
“We were super close,” the Nation Ford senior said. “Everyone who knew him wanted to be around him.”
The memorial run helps to heal the wounds from the death of a beloved son and a friend, but it also serves as a chance to educate the younger generation about Luke.
Nathaniel Whyte, another senior at Nation Ford, says he tells stories about Luke all the time with younger runners. Whyte ran with Luke when he was in eighth and ninth grade, and remembers practices when Luke would show up in “super short shorts, long mismatched socks and a tie-dye bandanna.”
“Nowadays, there aren’t a lot of people who know who he was, so any time we got a chance, we’re telling stories and talking about him to keep his spirit alive,” Whyte said.
Thanks to their friend and fellow runner, Whyte and Emenhiser have the opportunity to take their stories and their talents to college. The Hoover family established two $1,000 scholarships that are awarded to Nation Ford cross-country seniors who demonstrate leadership qualities on and off the field of athletics. Given her son’s Fort Mill High School roots (he transferred to Nation Ford in his sophomore year), Angie Hoover wants to see one of the scholarships go to help a Yellow Jacket in need.
“We haven’t talked to anyone at Fort Mill yet,” she said, “but this is a small town. It’s one community. I know there are two schools, but I don’t look at it that way. [Luke] was a [Fort Mill] kid from the beginning. If we can grow this race, that’s what we’ve had planned in our minds all along.”
Whyte will use his scholarship to help pay for his education at Liberty University, while Emenhiser is hoping to major in biology at the College of Charleston once she graduates this June. She says she’ll keep running in college, even though she won’t be on the team.
“I always want to bring in the passion Luke had for running and help others with that,” she said. “It’ll be one way to remember him, even though he’s gone.”
Another way will be the annual run this Saturday. Participants can choose between taking the 5K run and a one-mile walk and are welcome to bring pets. Refreshments are provided from Harris Teeter, BI-LO and Coca-Cola. All proceeds benefit the scholarship fund. Angie Hoover just has one request.
“We like everyone to come out in their crazy, colorful socks and tie dye and everything, just like Luke always loved to do,” she said.
With the family together again, for the fourth consecutive year, the memories will burn bright and the stories will be retold, not only for friends and family, but also for the young runners who follow in Luke’s polka dot socked footsteps.
Registration for the 5K is $30 and $25 for the walk and begins at 8 a.m. at the Greenway.