Tragedy can help build character and shape human beings.
In some cases, it can shape an entire community.
The Heye family of Sherwood is one such example after a decade of commitment to the Sherwood Sharks’ youth swimming program.
With another dominating season, the Sharks clinched their fifth-straight Central Arkansas Swim League title and Meet of Champs overall win over the weekend.
Today, the Sharks have become far and away the team to beat on any given Saturday morning meet in June or July, but Paul and Mary Jo Heye’s introduction to youth-league swimming came almost a decade ago with the promising ability of the first of
their five children.
Trey Heye became a member of the Sharks swim team at the urging of a family at their church. Though he had little experience, he managed to qualify for the annual year-end Meet of Champs event in every event … to the amazement of his mother.
“He was one of those kids that was really smart,” Mary Jo said. “And I just didn’t think he was really going to be very athletic.
And the first season, he went to the Meet of Champs in every stroke. I was blown away by it.
“He is the reason our family got into swimming. And then they each just grew up around the pool watching their older brother compete. So now we have four who eat, sleep and breathe swimming, I mean, they absolutely love it.”
Trey’s love and talent for swimming inspired Mary Jo, who became much more than a poolside mom. She took over as parent representative for the fledgling team, a title she holds to this day.
“When Trey was on this team, we were one of the smallest teams in the league,” Heye said. “Whenever we won a meet, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we won a meet.’ The thing that was so neat though, was the way this team has always been, if we lost meets, it wasn’t a big deal. It was mostly about, ‘well, did the kids improve?’ And that’s what it should always be
Trey quickly made his way through the ranks to become one of the Sharks’ strongest swimmers, and was on the roster to compete in a USA League swim meet on Dec. 6, 2000. But a few days prior to the Arkansas Dolphins event, he was admitted to a local children’s hospital with a severe sinus infection. It was not initially viewed as life threatening, but an allergic reaction to a sulfur-based antibiotic caused swelling in his liver. Trey died on the day of the meet.
“It’s just one of those things that you have to put in God’s hands,” Mary Jo said. “Because otherwise, how could you deal with something like that?”
Trey was the oldest of four boys for Paul and Mary Jo. Christopher, now 12, Thomas, now 10, were both preschool age, and 8-year-old Ian was not yet a toddler. Since then, youngest son Nicholas was born, and all four have followed in their oldest brother’s footsteps.
Thomas has proven to be the breakout star of the group, but all four have flourished as Sharks. Christopher won three of his events at the Meet of Champs last Saturday, including the freestyle, breaststroke and individual medley. Ian competed in two gold and two silver events, winning first in the butterfly, along with two second-place finishes and a third place finish in the gold breaststroke event. He was also part of the first-place relay team in the 8-under division.
Nicholas took second place in the 6-under gold breaststroke and third in the butterfly event.
Thomas, expected to dominate at the event, did not disappoint, winning five competitions. Three other Sharks captured four event wins, but Thomas’ wins in the freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke and IM were tops for the meet, and a big part of Sherwood’s 519 total points, which was more than double the total for second-place Cabot and third-place Maumelle.
The passing of Trey was not only devastating for his immediate family, but for his Sharks family as well. Accomplished swim coach Keith McAfee was a coach for the Sharks when Trey first signed up, and is still a primary coach for the squad, along with his duties as a head coach for the USA League Dolphins.
McAfee said that Mary Jo and her family are an inspiration to the group, and for the kids, they manage to inspire in more ways than one.
“It was a really tough time for all of us,” McAfee said. “The shock of someone so young passing away like that. He was a great kid, really coachable — a lot like his brothers. He was potentially going to be a great swimmer. He liked to race a lot.
“I can’t imagine how hard it would be to lose a son and a brother. His brothers have followed in his footsteps and have just done great, all of them. It is an inspiration to see them and how hard they work. But as good as they are, the other kids can also learn a lot from watching them, their technique and their work ethic.”
Former Air Force pilot and current Air National Guardsman Paul Heye said that his family’s involvement with swimming has been very important.
“Trey got us into the sport of swimming,” he said. “It’s just something that we’ve done. Neither one of us are the kind of people that can sit around and watch; we’re always jumping in and trying to help. It seemed like the thing to do and the time to do it.”
While Christopher, Thomas, Ian and Nicholas continue their brother’s legacy, Trey’s spirit continues to live on via several programs named in his honor, including the Trey Heye sportsmanship award. Bank of the Ozarks also sponsors the Trey Heye Memorial Fund, which provides scholarship money to the Texas A&M 12th man Foundation.
The Dolphins also have the Trey Heye Memorial Swim Meet, a USA meet on the first weekend of every December — the very meet Trey was supposed to attend before he became ill.
Mary Jo said Trey would be thrilled with the Sharks’ success over the past five years.
“I have always felt that Trey has watched over this team,” Mary Jo said. “This team has absolutely flourished. It’s such a great group of parents and kids.”
Mary Jo said her family’s decision to continue its involvement with the Sharks after his death was not an easy one, but a conversation with a parent who had gone through something similar helped her put things in perspective.
“I met a parent in our parents’ group,” Heye said. “And one day I asked her how I am supposed to get through this. And she said to me it had been 10 years since her daughter had died — she was seven also. She said she had two choices.
“She said that she could either close up her heart, and live but not really live, or she could try to do things in her child’s memory and make her child proud that she was her mother. So, I went home that night, and completely changed my philosophy about how I was going to live my life and handle that. And so, from that point on, I’ve picked things that I can do in memory of my son.”