Taylor, Michigan- It was homecoming 2017, the final homecoming ever at John F. Kennedy High School where alumni from all eras congregated one more time at Sclater Stadium. They were able to watch the final homecoming king and queen crowned before the school closes its doors for good after this school year. Every homecoming king and queen has a story, and here you will learn about the story of the king.
Conner Zschunke is a senior middle linebacker for the football team. It may sound cliché, but at first glimpse, he may look like any other high school student. However, Zschunke has battle scars, the type that you can’t exactly see.
You see, this young man who wears number 55 on the football field was on his death bed a couple of months ago.
“I had a terrible infection in my stomach,” Zschunke said. “They couldn’t figure it out. By the time they figured it out, I had already lost all of my weight, all of my muscle mass, so I was just (a) skeleton.”
At this point, Zschunke only weighted between 110-120 pounds. Now he’s back up to 160. A young man, who said that he couldn’t even walk to the bathroom a few months ago, credits his spiritual faith as the one thing that brought him through the challenges presented by the illness and rehab. Zschunke was raised in a Baptist household, and became more committed to his faith as he grew older.
“Without my faith in God, I wouldn’t be alive,” Zschunke said.
Whether Zschunke is familiar with the George Michael song “Faith” or not, he definitely has plenty of it, which led to him returning to the team in time for the Eagles game against Southgate Anderson. The homecoming game was his second game back. This game was already extra special for every member of the team, but for Zschunke, this was a game that, at one point, was uncertain for him.
“It means absolutely everything to me,” Zschunke said. “There’s nothing more (that) I’m grateful for. This game is my life. My coach, I consider my father. This game is the most important thing ever. I’m so grateful to be part of it.”
Unfortunately, the game didn’t go well for the Eagles, now 0-7 after a 49-0 loss to Melvindale, but for Zschunke being on the field, firing up his teammates, and getting a sack (which most middle linebackers don’t get to enjoy) was great victory.
“I had Conner when he was a freshman and he was the same way,” Eagles head coach Steve Rusnak said. “I knew he’d grow into the leader (that he is) and I was gone for two years, and coming back here, he is the same kid he was as a freshman, just more mature now. That’s his real character. It’s a real kid you see there and a young man, and I wish we could have had him from March, but he got sick and was out.”
During halftime, Zschunke was introduced along with the other nine members of the final homecoming court. When his name was announced as the homecoming king, he seemed a little uncomfortable, as his humility tempered any celebration.
“I don’t deserve any of this,” Zschunke said with tears. “I don’t deserve the wonderful team I have. I don’t deserve my awesome quarterback. I don’t deserve to be crowned king. I deserve to be laying in a hospital bed. I’m just grateful.”
As he was saying this, his quarterback teammate and fellow senior Faizon Nundley came over and told him “no you don’t” to Conner’s assertion that he deserves to still be in the hospital. It’s moments like this where as a journalist, it can be difficult to be objective and not feel anything from the story you’re covering. You can truly feel how grateful and humbled Conner is and how much his teammates such as Faizon care about him.
It used to be in centuries past where loyal subjects would proudly shout, “Long live the king!” Upon learning about this young man, I believe that phrase fits here. Here’s to the final homecoming king in the history of the kingdom that is Kennedy High School. Long live King Conner. You heard it from me, Seth Walker.