A senior year without prom, spring sports, senior week and in-person goodbyes is tough for any high school graduate, but Owensboro High School’s Kevin Payne has faced more difficult obstacles than those in his lifetime.
Payne — who just wrapped up his senior year — is a well-rounded, model student who excels in both academics and athletics. He’s also the oldest brother of five boys, all of whom were in foster care for much of their life.
Things were tough growing up, Payne said, as he and his siblings moved from Owensboro to Alabama at a young age and spent the next few years relocating “frequently” between the two places. When Payne finally moved back to Owensboro permanently, it was a difficult adjustment.
“Coming back in my teenage years was a bit different,” he said. “All of my elementary school friends were in Alabama, and — it was just different. I didn’t really know anyone.”
Payne had been in foster care in Clayton, Ala., when he moved back to Owensboro to live with relatives.
He called that move a life-changing moment.
“The family I was with was kind of struggling,” he said. “Then I was in foster care with my grandparents. All of us were under one roof together, under my grandparents’ care.”
When it was discovered that Payne’s grandmother had developed a tumor on her hip, Payne said it was decided that his grandparents couldn’t take care of the five of them anymore. After that, a single mother in Owensboro stepped up to take care of Payne and his siblings.
One year later, in August 2014, she adopted all five of them.
Payne said his time at OHS transformed his life even further.
“The last four years — honestly, I wouldn’t trade them for anything,” he said. “It’s been exciting, and I have loads of fun. I have friends, and I’ve felt loved by the staff at OHS.”
Payne singled out OHS principal John DeLacey, one of the staff who changed his life. DeLacey has been with the Class of 2020 since middle school, Payne said, and has encouraged and supported him every step of the way.
“He gives a fist bump to every student who walks into the school in the morning,” Payne said. “The small things are what matters and make OHS great. I feel like I’ve excelled here academically, but I always feel pushed to be kind of the best.”
Like many other seniors in his graduating class, Payne has felt the sting of disappointment that’s come with the COVID-19 pandemic. With all of his in-person classes cancelled, his spring lacrosse season cut short, and a graduation that probably will not look like the one he envisioned, Payne is holding his head up.
Also a soccer player at OHS, Payne said he learned so much about the game — and life — from his coach. After starting out as the team manager in middle school, he went on to become a starting defender that helped lead OHS to many successful seasons.
“My coach told me this, and I’ll never forget it; he said I wasn’t the best player on the field, and that I wasn’t the fastest player on the field, but that I was the hardest-working player, and that’s why he let me on the team,” Payne said.
That work ethic is something Payne will continue to keep as he enters the University of Kentucky next year to pursue a degree in engineering.
“My biggest focus for college has always been to learn as much as I can and stay focused on my future.”