At the conclusion of Saturday’s memorial service, friends and family released 100 balloons to remember the life of Matt Miklas.
As the blue, purple and white balloons climbed higher into the blue sky, the wind pushed them from First Baptist Church over the pine trees, down Walton Way and toward Augusta State. It’s just where Miklas would’ve wanted to go.
The chief reporter for the Augusta State newspaper, The Bell Ringer, Miklas looked forward to the school’s new addition of end zone bleachers. After watching games for years in his wheelchair on the mezzanine level, he would now sit on court level in front of the student section. Miklas’ dream never took place. He died in early November, one week before the Jaguars’ home opener.
“He was so excited to sit down on the floor,” Miklas’ mother, Kathy, said. “He just loved ASU.”
Augusta State will honor the memory of Miklas between the men’s and women’s games tonight on his 24th birthday. The Lady Jaguars play host to Lander at 5:30 p.m. at Christenberry Fieldhouse. The men’s game tips off at 7:30.
Augusta State men’s coach Dip Metress has pledged $24 in honor of Miklas’ birthday for every 3-pointer the Jaguars make tonight. The money will help support the school’s Matt Miklas Scholarship Fund.
Augusta State was well represented at Miklas’ memorial service. Metress was in attendance, along with school president William A. Bloodworth Jr. Joyce Jones, vice president of student services, served as one of the guest speakers.
That Miklas made it to Augusta State is a major miracle. He was born in Bethesda, Md., with spina bifida, his spinal cord resting outside of his body. Just 11 hours old, Miklas went into surgery for nine hours. The first eight weeks of his life, he endured seven surgeries.
Miklas would never gain much use of his legs. But to say he was wheelchair-bound isn’t 100 percent accurate. He only used the wheelchair to take him to his latest adventure.
At the Family Y, Miklas learned how to swim like a champion. He set four national records in the breastroke at the Junior National Championships. Every Saturday, he would swim at least 48 laps at the Family Y.
He was also a standout member of wheelchair basketball and soccer teams, and he participated in adaptive golf and adaptive water-skiing.
“Wherever his wheels would take him, Matt was present,” First Baptist Church senior pastor Greg Deloach said. “Matt was alive.”
The ever-smiling Miklas logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. He worked countless days helping bring Miracle League Baseball to Augusta, and then he became a coach.
Miklas also was a popular figure at Augusta State, where he befriended students and athletes alike. When the golf team traveled in September 2010 to the White House in honor of the Jaguars’ first national championship, Miklas flew on one of two private jets with the Augusta State party. He covered the event for The Bell Ringer, trekking to the press briefing room and the South Lawn with the rest of the credentialed media.
“The night before he went, he wouldn’t stop talking,” Kathy Miklas said. “He was so excited.”
Miklas planned to be a professional journalist. He was one month shy of graduation when he died; Kathy Miklas, a retired Army nurse, believes he died of a pulmonary embolism.
A closed-casket funeral was held in mid-November in New Jersey, where his grandparents reside. Kathy Miklas didn’t want people to see his body. Instead, she wanted them to remember his cheerful, endearing spirit.
When Miklas is honored tonight, remember one other thing: He was buried in a red Augusta State shirt, sweatpants and sneakers.