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Smithsburg High School students hold vigil for injured classmate

Preston Miller was critically injured recently in a car crash in the area of Mt. Aetna Road and Crystal Falls Drive

July 25, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK | holly.shok@herald-mail.com
  • Smithsburg High School classmates of Preston Miller, Emma Zahm, left, Steven Rishell, Caitlyn Wilson, LJ Etter and Zane Gardenhour collect their thoughts as words are spoken about Miller at a prayer vigil at the school's football field Thursday evening.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

With the same teen spirit they used to cheer him on at football games, Smithsburg High School students filled the bleachers for a different reason Thursday night — to pull for a classmate who was critically injured in a recent car crash.

At the vigil for injured athlete Preston Miller, which was aimed at gathering “prayers for Preston,” they cheered his name, wrote him messages of support and bowed their heads in prayer.

On the school’s track and football field about 200 students, all wearing his favorite color, red, gathered to spell out his initials — PM. 

Preston, an incoming senior who is a football player and member of the school’s track team, is currently at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where a hospital spokeswoman said he was in critical condition Thursday morning.

The teen was ejected from the 1996 Subaru he was driving in an afternoon crash July 14 in the area of Mt. Aetna Road and Crystal Falls Drive, according to previous reports in The Herald-Mail.

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Another juvenile who was a passenger was able to get out of the vehicle on his own, according to a news release from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Students at the vigil said the passenger was uninjured.

The vigil was spearheaded by 18-year-old Brandon Athey, who graduated from Smithsburg High at the end of the school year.

“It just shows how much everybody loves Preston, how great of a guy he is,” said Athey, of Hagerstown. “As long as he keeps fighting, I know he’s going to make it through.”

Athey described his friend and former teammate as a “once-in-a-lifetime person.”

Social studies teacher T.J. Hood, who also coached Miller in football and track, helped to organize the vigil.

He told students Thursday night that they were gathered because of their “tenacity.”

“We cannot quit, we must be strong, we must be unrelenting in our belief that Preston will come out of this .... “ Hood said.

Miller has fought pneumonia and blood clots, but also has shown signs of recovery such as responding to commands and wiping his face, according to Hood.

“He’s got a battle ahead of him — there’s no way around saying that,” said Hood, who described Miller as “the life of the party.”

Senior Victoria Ferguson said anytime Miller is missing from class, his absence is largely apparent.

“He would comment on everything — but in a good way,” said Ferguson, 17, of Smithsburg.

Messages like “The whole school is praying, stay strong” were jotted down on a red piece of parchment.

Donations for Miller’s family were also collected at the vigil.

Hood said an additional fundraiser will be held Aug. 25 at the restaurant 28 South in downtown Hagerstown.

Indoor and outdoor throws coach Tara Knable also spoke during the vigil.

“Preston has touched my life more than any kid I have met,” she said.

Knable said she talked to Miller’s mother Wednesday and was told he was moving his right side. Knable said that meant Miller was “dreaming of throwing a shotput.”

“He never quits,” she said.

Hood joked that it’s “hard to get people from Smithsburg” to wear red, which is North Hagerstown High School’s color.

“The community comes together on things like this,” Hood said.

“Hopefully, also it will in a way get some of these kids who are out here to realize there are consequences ... as great as it is to see the support of the community, if I never do another one of these again I’ll be very content,” Hood said.

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