HOLLAND, Mich. — Holland High School sophomore basketball player LayRay Paw has been named a winner of the Naismith Courage Award.
LayRay made the varsity basketball team this winter.
"I was really scared, especially the first game," LaRay said. "It felt like a whole different court for some reason. It was so much faster and everybody was so good."
She has been overcoming fear for a long time. The youngest of six siblings, LayRay's family fled from its native Myanmar to Thailand where they lived in a refugee camp.
"It was really poor there and there wasn't that much food," LayRay said. "We didn't have much clothing and we just got food from the government."
Her parents both eventually died and all six of the kids ended up in Holland, Michigan in the care of Bob and Marcia Gustavson.
"They couldn't speak our language, we couldn't speak theirs," Marcia said. "So the first six months was like playing charades."
"After about six months Layray became our interpreter," Bob Gustavson said. "She was only six at the time so she picked up on the language pretty quick and started doing all the interpreting."
LayRay has been selected as one of only two winners nationally for the Naismith Courage Award which recognizes High School basketball players that demonstrate courage and perseverance in their approach to life and basketball.
"I am very thankful for everybody that helped me get it, parents and teachers," LayRay said. "It means a lot because there are so many stories out there."
The Gustavson's are thrilled that LayRay has been recognized. They credit her ability to excel academically as well as athletically.
"It's just been a real honor to see her get this," Marcia said. "We feel it is well deserved because of how hard she works."
"We couldn't ask for the blessings that we've had from the kids," Bob added. "People say what a blessing you have been to them and I like to believe that we've gotten more blessings from them than we have given."
LayaRay plans to attend college after high school and hopes to play sports at the next level as well.