Sitting around during cabin time at a Young Life camp in Colorado, Hayden Maynor listened intently while another student shared his story of growing up with parents who had become addicted to drugs. The vulnerable young man, often sobbing at times as he spoke, was overcome with emotion as he laid bare the pieces of a troubled home life. The pain in his voice hit Hayden close to home; he could empathize because he knew the story all too well.
Later that night, the three-sport star at Soddy-Daisy High School with the All-American smile and natural born leadership ability whose athletic accomplishments rival anyone who has ever donned the Trojan uniform, pulled his classmate to the side and told him something he doesn't tell many people.
"I just told him that he and I have the exact same story."
"I said that I know it's scary, I know it sucks, but that he was going to get through it.
At first he didn't believe me that I had been through the same thing. He and I are nothing alike; He's really smart and plays a lot of musical instruments and I stick to the athletic stuff. It was just so crazy because our stories were similar, but we're two totally different people. I honestly think it made his day to hear that two completely different people are going down the same road."
Like many students, Hayden doesn't talk about that part of his life very often. But he said he can still remember the day over a decade ago when his whole world changed.
Riding in his dad's white work van that he used for his carpet installation business, Hayden and his parents were on their way to his wrestling practice when he was six years old. Sitting in the van's open area behind his parents where there were no seat belts, he recalled being pulled over by the police.
"At that age, I didn't know that they had become addicted to drugs, but when he would drive messed up, I could tell something was wrong," Hayden said. "We got pulled over that night, and he ended up going to jail and my mom and I went back to the house instead of practice."
Hayden said he loved living with his dad and mom as a kid, remembering the fun they all had at Christmas and riding four-wheelers. But he admitted that he had begun to realize that something had changed. He would often walk into the house and both would be passed out for long periods of time. His parents had also lost their jobs, forcing them to move from their house into a duplex nearby.
His family tried to keep him from knowing what had happened to his dad that night, but he said he got to the point where he figured it out. It wasn't long after his dad's arrest that his mom didn't come home one evening long after she was supposed to have gotten off work. He and his brother Hunter, who is five years older, called their grandmother, and she came to pick them up. Hayden lived with his grandparents temporarily for a little while after that, but the arrangement became permanent when he turned seven years old.
"Hunter and I are so thankful for my grandparents because they saved us. They took us in and provided for us after raising two kids of their own. I think they enjoyed it, though, and they were more than willing to do it. As soon as they found out that they had the opportunity, they jumped on it. A lot of people don't have grandparents who would do that."
From that point forward, Hayden's life has been shaped by two very important things: his decision to travel on a different path and the community of family that has come alongside him to offer unconditional love and support.
Roughly 12 years since the events that shook up his childhood, one thing that is certain about Hayden's life thus far is that he hasn't been defined by those early moments. With an exceptional God-given athletic ability and a driven, hard-working personality, the recent graduate excelled at everything he's ever done on the field and the mat during his time at Soddy-Daisy.
Hayden had difficulty remembering a time without sports, saying that he began playing baseball, football, and wrestling when he was just four years old.
"When I was young, I don't feel like I was that good. But it would make me mad when I wasn't good, and I was the type of kid who would go sit in the dugout and be angry. I wouldn't want to talk to anyone until I could get it right. We would go home and I would talk to my brother (who also became a sports stand-out at Soddy-Daisy), and then we would play together. It was probably when I was around six or seven that I started to really get it, and a lot of that was because of Hunter helping me get better."
His relationship with his brother goes far beyond sports. While many people have come into each of their lives to love them, there's something about walking through fire together than can meld two lives into a bond that can never be broken. The two have always leaned on each other, and no matter how difficult life was they knew they had each other to count on.
"He's my best friend. He and I will be close until the day we die, especially with all of the stuff we've been through together. I don't think I would've gotten through it without him. I think I would've been a different person, gone down a different path. He pushed me to be the best I could be at every sport, cooked for me, and taught me how to hunt."
The two shared a room when they went to live with their grandparents, and Hayden recalled lying in bed nearly every night just talking to his brother about life. Their dad and mom came in and out of their lives, and their dad even lived with them a few times, but Hayden said he could never shake his addiction, prompting him and Hunter to make the difficult choice to tell their grandparents they didn't want him to be there.
"We didn't talk about our parents much. We just said that it was their life and they could do what they wanted to do, but we were going to do something else. We just stuck with each other, and that's how we got through it."
Hunter owns a lawn maintenance business, and Hayden often helps him with jobs that he can't get to. But even with as close as they are, Hayden understands the limits of their friendship, which means he steers clear from working all day beside his brother.
"Me and him riding around in a truck all day, we would just argue the whole time. I'd be like 'It needs to be this way,' and he'd say, 'No, it needs to be this way.' And it will have to be done his way because he's the boss. So, yeah, I'm not riding around in a truck with him."
His dedication to athletics has paid off with a scholarship to play baseball at Cleveland State next season. Hayden had hoped to join elite company by making the all-state team in three sports like his baseball coach Jim Higgins (he had already achieved two legs of that goal in football and wrestling), but he never got that chance after the season was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After a stellar junior season in which he hit .320 and led the team in a number of statistical categories, he felt poised to have his best season so far on the diamond.
"Losing baseball definitely sucks because I could just feel it while we were practicing that this was going to be the year that I was going to show out. It's heart-breaking to think I'm never going to be able to put on a Soddy-Daisy uniform again."
"He's willing to risk everything physically and emotionally because he refuses to be behind anyone," said Higgins. "When you hear coaches talking about players who are willing to run through a brick wall for them, you don't have to ask Hayden for that or to bring energy at practice. He enjoys the process, and that's one of the things I've always loved about him."
"He's earned his leadership role by the way he practices and plays; he hasn't had to say anything. At the same time, he would step up and tell people, 'If you're afraid, follow me, get on my back.'"
Higgins has been far from just a coach in Hayden's life. Having known Hayden since birth, Higgins took on a father figure role, particularly when Hayden reached high school.
"When I got to high school, he changed the way I wanted to do things," Hayden said. "He's never told me anything that isn't true, and if I call him any time, he'll answer. He's been there to talk to me about sports or school or anything in my life. From the time that I started listening to him, my entire life has been better. I also love his family, and he's said that I'm a role model for his two boys, which means a lot to me."
"I don't think I will ever be able to give him back what he has given me. Watching him and knowing what he's done in my life has made me think about being a coach and a teacher to change someone else's life."
Higgins reciprocated those feelings when he talked about Hayden and the impact he's made on his personal life.
"I love him like he's my own, and I mean that from the depths of my soul," Higgins said. "If you were able to sit down with God himself and design the kind of kid that you want, Hayden would fit the bill for a lot of parents around here. He would give you the shirt off of his back in a heartbeat. My kids worship the ground that he walks on, and for someone who coaches and whose kids spend a lot of time around the athletes I coach, that means the world to me."
Likewise, Brent and Amber Maynor, Hayden's uncle and aunt, have been such a heavy influence in his life that many of his classmates think they're his parents. Hayden recalled practically living at their house for long periods of time, and said he considers their three kids more like siblings than cousins, especially the oldest, Landon, who will be a senior at Soddy-Daisy next year.
"I couldn't thank them enough for everything they've done for me. I can't tell you how many times they've provided food or a roof over my head. There were times when I was younger and living with my mom and dad that I would call Amber crying because I didn't want to be there anymore, and she would come get me."
"They taught me the right way to do things. When my grades were bad, Amber would stay on me about them. Brent would take me and Landon to the baseball field and hit us hundreds of balls; he pushed us to be great. Everything they did was for my benefit."
"Hayden is a great kid, and he deserves all of the recognition he gets," Brent said. "It has been a joy to have (Hayden and Hunter) around and to coach them with all of my kids. They've all competed with each other all their lives and made each other better."
"In sports, he's not just a gamer; he goes all out in practice. We'll be taking batting practice with him at shortstop, and we're having to tone him down because he's out there diving and we're worried he's going to get hurt. He's just out there having fun. He's always had a competitive nature to him, and that's something you can't teach. Even when we go fishing, he's determined to catch more fish than everyone else. It's in everything he does."
The connection between Hayden and his cousins has spawned a new creative outlet that began in the past year, a YouTube channel. "The Maynor Boys Outdoors" documents the boys' adventures hunting and fishing, something Hayden said will give them all the chance to look back on their time together when they get older. The channel already has over a hundred subscribers and can be found at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHZ72zi1kah78-kx19FvIOA/featured
While baseball might be his best sport, he admitted that football was his favorite. As a Trojan, he amassed nearly 3,000 yards of total offense and had 36 touchdowns, and had over 300 tackles while being responsible for 19 total turnovers on defense. Roughly half of those stats came during a senior year in which he led the Trojans to a region championship.
"Hayden is hard-nosed, kind of a throwback," said head football coach Justin Barnes. "He had a go-to-work mentality, one of the toughest guys I've been around in my career, always playing through pain. The great players are always competing and never want to lose, and that's who he is."
"The thing that has always impressed me is that he's probably had every reason to not be the person that he is, but he's overcome all of that. He's made the decision to be a better person, do things the right way, and lead by example, and that's all you can ask for as a coach."
After taking his junior season off from wrestling due to an injured shoulder during football, Hayden chose to return to the mat for his senior year, something that impressed head coach Brad Laxton.
"He didn't have to come out and wrestle this year," Laxton said. "After missing last season with an injury, I honestly didn't think he'd wrestle this year because he already had a baseball scholarship and wouldn't want to risk another injury. Nobody would've questioned him if he'd made that decision."
"But he didn't. He came out there and finished second in the state. It was impressive to watch him come out and really dedicate himself in a way that I've never seen in wrestling. What impressed me the most was that he didn't have to do it; he wanted to do it."
He made the season a memorable one, going 33-4 and winning the region championship in the 182-pound weight class before falling in the class AAA championship match 5-1 to finish as the state runner-up. But he said that the lessons he learned from wrestling went far beyond the mat.
"Wrestling helped me learn to control my fear. That's what helped me in life as well. After wrestling my whole life, and with all of the stuff I've been through with family, I feel like I can show my opponent or whoever I'm supposed to be scared of that I'm not scared. It makes everything easier when you feel like you can control that fear."
There isn't much Hayden is scared of anymore, not with everything he's faced. All too often young people who grow up in a toxic environment don't feel that there's any way out of it. Hayden's story is one of hope, that it doesn't have to be that way as long as they have the resolve to determine their own path in life and surround themselves with people who are going to love them and support them in being the best versions of themselves.
"Walking in on your parents doing drugs is one of the scariest things ever," he admitted. "But I felt like that taught me how to control my fear of anything. If I can not be scared of that, I'm not going to be scared of someone on a mound pitching or about to tackle me or wrestling against me. That stuff has helped me to control my fear throughout my entire life. I'm not glad it was part of my life, but it definitely helped me to become the person that I am today."
Higgins understands the impact that a story like Hayden's can have on others who are going through something similar.
"I know his story is hard to tell and can be embarrassing, and through the years I've tried to shelter him because I didn't want him or his family to be uncomfortable. But there are so many kids who have a similar story, and if one of them could read this and realize that they don't have to repeat the cycle, that they can do something for themselves and follow the blueprint laid out by Hayden and many others like him, it will change their lives. All of these kids are faced with difficult circumstances, and every one of them come to a crossroads. I want them to understand that it isn't about getting knocked down, it's about what you do after that. You are your own person on your own journey, and you have to figure out how to use everything you've gone through."
(Email Kevin Llewallyn at Kevin.firstname.lastname@example.org)