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The sky’s the limit

McGwire Stanley remembers that his dad, Dave, went to his t-ball games and he remembers them playing ball together in the yard. He remembers things his family told him about his dad. He remembers things his dad’s friends told him. He has only memories because McGwire was five years old when his dad died.

“My dad was an Army aviator,” McGwire said. “He piloted Black Hawk helicopters and he served two tours in Iraq. He was killed in a training exercise when the weather turned bad.”

McGwire is a 2020 graduate of Goshen High School and he graduated a second time on Friday afternoon. He received  an associate degree in applied science, aviation and leadership from Pike County High School’s First In Flight Academy. McGwire’s plans are to attend Middle Tennessee State and enter the university’s professional pilot program.

But, that is not what he had planned.

When McGwire’s family moved from  Tennessee to Pike County, he enrolled at Charles Henderson High School in his freshman year. And, as with many young athletes, McGwire thoughts were on playing baseball, hopefully, on the college level.

“Out of nowhere, my mom found out about the First In Flight Academy at Goshen High School,” he said. “It seemed like a great program. I applied and was accepted. My dad was a pilot and my grandfather was in the Air Force. There was no way I could pass up that opportunity. It was a chance to do something that my dad did.”

Although McGwire had not thought of aviation as a career, it quickly erased any thoughts of baseball.

“Being in the air was like nothing I had ever done,” he said. “It was so peaceful and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

McGwire prepared himself in the classroom and during the training flights for the day he would finally solo – when he would be alone in the plane, when he would know that he had the grit that it takes to pilot a plane.

McGwire’s opportunity to solo came when he was 18 years old. Although his training flights had gone well, being alone in the plane was “a little nerve wracking.”

“I remembered what my instructor said. ‘A plane wants to fly; It does not want to fall out of the sky.’”

With that assurance, McGwire took the controls.

“It was a rare moment, being alone at the controls,” McGwire said. “I couldn’t believe that I was going to solo. I kept thinking, ‘I’m good! I’ve got this! I can do it!’”

Once McGwire was up and away, he knew that for him, the sky really was the limit. He would just be content watching baseball on TV.

McGwire has two diplomas and will enter Middle Tennessee State with his eyes on the prize.

“My dream job is to fly jets in the Navy – to fly fighter jets,” he said. “I have my head on straight and I believe I can.”

And others including his mom, Kristy Stanley,  and Jeff McClure, Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent, Academy Programs and Dural Enrollment, Pike County Schools.

“McGwire is a well-rounded young man,” McClure said. “He is intelligent, athletic and the owner of a private pilot’s license. McGwire has navigated the challenges of being a high schooler with flying colors.

“It has been pleasure working with McGwire over the past three years. He is the epitome of the ‘All American Boy.’”

McClure said he understands that McGwire plans to pursue his education, focusing on aviation/flight.

“Whatever McGwire does, I have no doubt that he will have a bright future,” McClure.