The spring of 2020 brought a lot of challenges for area high school seniors.
For better or for worse, challenges are something Korbin Spencer knows how to handle.
The Northwestern all-state defensive end missed a chance to be a state champion discus thrower, and like many in the class of 2020, he and his peers didn’t graduate together, either.
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But he is looking ahead to continuing his academic and athletic careers as a student and a member of the track team at the University of Cincinnati, and that is at testament to his resolve.
“I would say that I have had to overcome a lot of difficult times, and I chose to make the best out of the circumstances,” Spencer said. “I also think they have helped shape me into the person I am today.”
By his own admission, Spencer was not the best student he could be early in his high school career.
Given the circumstances he was facing, that is not hard to understand.
His mother raised him while battling substance abuse, and he found himself practically homeless when he was 16 and she was placed on house arrest.
That eventually led him to the home of Matt and Jennifer Berner, who took him in and helped instill in him a sense of discipline he had lacked.
“It was scary not knowing where to live,” Spencer said. “My dad tried to get me to move to Florida where he lives and I refused because I did not want to leave the friendships and relationships I have built with my friends and the Northwestern community.
“So I chose to stay, and I’m glad I did.”
Along with the Berners, Spencer credited assistant football and former track coach Brian Stevenson, Northwestern Director of Athletics Brad Beals and guidance counselor Amy Fraker for helping him get onto a better life path.
“Coach Stevenson helped me in many ways,” Spencer said. “He would never let me fail, and he would never let me be anything but the best. We would train on Sundays and put in extra time together.”
After witnessing those Sunday training sessions – necessary because Spencer was also busy scoring 11.4 points per game and leading the Warriors basketball team in rebounding – Stevenson said he was confident Spencer would be a state qualifier in both the discus and the shot put.
And when the OHSAA announced spring sports were canceled, the coach and teacher was humbled by Spencer’s response.
“I can’t remember his exact quote, but he said, ‘Coach, there’s way more things in this world I could be pissed off about,’ and I’m thinking to myself here’s an 18-year-old who’s speaking more wisdom than my 31-year-old frustrated, pouting self is.”
Aside from becoming a successful student and excelling in sports, Spencer also became a leader in the school’s FFA chapter.
“As a freshman, he would jokingly say to the girl in his class who was a natural born leader that he would be president of the FFA over her and we all laughed,” said Erica Hillard, who teaches agriculture at Northwestern and is the FFA advisor. “As he matured, he realized that taking on a leadership role would be a good idea because he realized that confidence would only take you so far.”
She saw him push past the challenges in his life and expects that to continue for him.
“Korbin will be able to overcome his challenges because he chose to involve himself in leadership roles, sports and other worthwhile programs so that he would have skills moving from student and into adulthood,” Hillard said.
“He did not let the challenges of his past keep him from being a leader. My program traditionally gives students a place to practice leadership skills in the High School setting so that students had a place to practice what worked and what didn’t in order to apply skills in their adult lives.”
Jennifer Berner said they are thankful for the support from the Northwestern community.
“We feel that Korbin has learned to take responsibility for his actions whether they are good or bad,” she said. “Korbin has taught us so much more.”
The Berners are, of course, proud of his work to earn scholarships and excited for his next chapter while Spencer is happy he could finish what he started as a Warrior before becoming a Bearcat.
“The whole Northwestern community was very welcoming,” Spencer said. “Every single one of them welcomed me with open hands and that made me feel like I had a lot of people on my side.”
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