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Article of Interest - Children At-Risk

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Beating Prompts Burton Teen to Leave 'Wrong Crowd' Behind
Rickey Hampton, Lansing State Journal, October 11, 2005
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BURTON - Aaron Brank can remember only parts of the evening last January. First, there was the drinking at a friend's house. Then there was the beating.

The Atherton High School student was left unconscious in the snow, his face badly bruised, a fracture under one eye and a tooth missing. Aaron, now 15, was in a coma for 30 hours.

It may seem like a cliche, but the incident was a wake-up call for the teen. It wasn't the first time he and his friends spiraled out of control from drinking. But this time, Aaron resolved to change.

"I knew immediately that I didn't want to live like that anymore," he said.

"One of the (attackers) actually called me up in the hospital to apologize, but I started breaking down and crying.

"I'm thinking, these guys aren't my friends."

There was justice. Aaron's attackers - who were among the people with whom he was drinking - were punished. One actually did jail time, and the others were put on probation.

What happened to Aaron is every parent's nightmare. Most parents try to raise their children as best they can. They try to instill character, value and morals. However, in the end, all parents can hope and pray is that the kids will make wise choices. Aaron didn't at first.

"When I got to high school, I started hanging with the wrong crowd," he explained.

"They seemed cool, and we were having a lot of fun, and I wanted to be part of their group.

"We were drinking and getting high, and my grades started going down and down.

"At the time this happened, I was flunking everything. My best grade was a D-minus in choir.

"I decided when I was lying in the hospital that I wasn't going back that way again. I've had enough. I haven't drank or gotten high since that night. Just the smell of (alcohol) makes me sick now."

Aaron's parents have moved to Nashville, Tenn., and he has moved in with his grandparents, Rickey and Monica Brank. They've provided him with support and stability.

He has improved his grades. During the summer, he worked a part-time job. He has a bright future as a football player.

Physically, Aaron is a strapping youngster, the product of hours in the weight room.

The missing tooth, noticeable when he smiles, is the only physical reminder of his beating. Despite having the insurance to get it replaced, he hasn't.

"It doesn't bother me," he said. "I'm not self-conscious about it at all."

It's almost as if it is a reminder.

The change in Aaron's attitude has been startling, according to Atherton school staffers.

"I was his football coach in the eighth grade, and he was a discipline problem. I actually kicked him off the team," teacher Jason Garza said.

"But since the night the young men jumped him, he has really turned himself around. I'm really proud of him.

"I think he can do a lot. He is a smart kid, a very smart kid."


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