BY MARGARET ADAM
As a crowd of normally rambunctious preschoolers sat at rapt attention, Pass High student Trae Henderson opened the “Wild Pirate Theater” at the Pass library Wednesday using a set of percussion sticks and his original rap to let everyone know that sometimes scary things are also fun.
The theater troupe, made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors in the occupational diploma curriculum class, kept the tots enthralled as they read the classic children’s stories “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” including a performance using hand puppets who high-fived the young spectators, just to show they were not so scary after all.
Kids and parents alike jumped right in to the audience participation component of the show, loudly singing, “If you’re scared and you know it, hide your eyes!”
Prompted by a classmate to “drop a beat,” Trae used the tabletop as a drum and set a cadence for the rest of the song, much to the delight of his fellow Pirates and the enthusiastic youngsters.
Trae’s inclination to drop a beat comes naturally to the young man, who despite overwhelming obstacles in his short life, has established himself as a musician, a motivator and a remarkable individual.
His talent has earned him a position in the Pass High band, and his contagious personality has helped him find a niche in the complex social and academic climate of high school life. He is comfortably ensconced behind a set of drums, enjoying not only the music he makes but his self-proclaimed role of band cheerleader as well.
Seventeen-year-old Trae, who from birth has dealt with near-blindness and autism, is respected by classmates and teachers alike for his warm smile and unwavering positive attitude.
“He enjoys life,” said Gavin McAdams, Pass High Band Director. “He picks you up every single day. Trae plays for the pleasure of playing and to make us proud. This is his band.”
Pass special education teaching assistant Terrence McLaurin , who serves as Trae’s facilitator at band activities, spends a good deal of time with the young drummer as he ensures Trae is safely guided from one location to the next.
“He can really help to bring up your day,” echoed McLaurin.
Born at 24 weeks gestation and weighing only one pound and six ounces, Trae has overcome seemingly insurmountable odds in his 17 years.
At the time of his birth, first-time parents Kandi and Cary Henderson were cautioned that Trae would most likely suffer from overwhelming medical problems.
“However he was born is the way we were taking him home,” emphasized Kandi, who said she and her husband never wavered in their conviction.
Her firstborn spent five months in Memorial Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit undergoing nine eye surgeries before she and husband Cary Henderson were able to take him home.
Trae’s weight had increased to seven pounds by his release date.
Kandi explained that keeping Trae on a ventilator for an extended period of time following his premature birth resulted in severe retinopathy, causing damage to the blood vessels in his eyes.
There was no choice, she said, because Trae needed the ventilator to stay alive.
Today, said Kandi, Trae can see about four feet with one eye, more vision than anyone expected.
Trae has also defied doctor’ predictions that his life expectancy would not exceed five years.
Although he was developmentally delayed, Kandi said Trae was growing and thriving. Around age six, Trae was diagnosed with autism, a condition Kandi had suspected for at least a year.
“He’s very intelligent,” commented Kandi. “He loves to go to school.”
Trae’s experience with the Pass Christian school system has been nothing short of wonderful, according to Kandi.
“I am so grateful to the staff,” she said. “All his teachers are so willing to help him.”
And his fellow students have been consistently kind and welcoming as well, she added. Despite his physical challenges and autism diagnosis, Trae’s classmates have always treated him with respect and care.
Trae’s physical challenges have not prevented him from becoming a proficient drummer. In fact, McAdams described the young musician as a natural with perfect pitch.
As a youngster, Trae drummed on everything. At the age of two, he was beating on the kitchen pots. Kandi said she believes Trae has an instinct for music and beat.
Trae began playing drums in middle school under the supervision of former band director Mark Russell.
“Now he’s a huge contributor to what we do,” said McAdams, who took over as director this year. McAdams, a drummer himself, said he is amazed at how quickly Trae can learn a piece of music.
“He listens to something and he just knows it,” said Kandi.
“I see it in my head,” said Trae, who picks up the melody by ear rather than by reading a sheet of music.
When Trae talks about his dreams for the future, his another big smile plays on his already happy face. He wants to work at The Sweet Escape, a local eatery and game room in DeLisle and one of his favorite places to hang out.
Thanks to a donation from the Pass Christian Rotary Club, Trae will soon be performing on an electronic drum set, in addition to the conventional set he now uses. The electronic set will give the young drummer even more sounds to work with, said McAdams, who predicted Trae will love the electronic set once he has the opportunity to experience it.