CEDAR RAPIDS — “He made the job worth doing,” Ben Sparboe said.
A teacher, coach and student adviser at Metro High School, Sparboe worked closely with Andrew Dontae Gaston since he transferred from Jefferson High School last March.
Gaston, 18, was on schedule to graduate early next school year.
Late Friday night, Gaston was shot and killed at an apartment complex on Agin Court NE, just south of Blairs Ferry Road in Cedar Rapids.
A 16-year-old was also shot, Cedar Rapids police said. The teen was treated at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital and has been released.
Police have not made any arrests.
Intelligent, engaged, determined — Gaston was one of those students Sparboe knew would succeed.
“You get you get a sense of kids pretty quick,” Sparboe said Monday. “And (Andrew) was just a really good kid. He was just a good kid — never stressed, never agitated, never irritated — he was all the things that you want in a young man. He was studious, hardworking, but really, he was just a good kid.”
Gaston, he said, was proud but humble — never bragging or boasting — and always working to improve.
And he brought that same determination to the basketball courts, recalled Sparboe, who coaches basketball.
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Andrew “was coachable,” he said. “You work with kids and you tell them what they need to be doing, and sometimes you can tell they’re not paying attention or they’ve already decided you’re wrong. But (Andrew) listened and he internalized what you were saying to him. He really loved the game and he wanted to work harder and get better.”
Gaston also carried the lessons he learned on the court into his everyday life, Sparboe said.
“He saw the carry-over into life,” the coach said. “We talk a lot about what basketball teaches you about yourself and about decency and about hard work and about dedication, and he would demonstrate those capabilities. It wasn’t just a chance for him to score points, it was a chance for him to push himself to be a better person.”
Sparboe said he learned what happened to Gaston on Saturday morning from Metro Principal Dan Devore. Gaston’s death is a huge loss, he said, for the school, the students, the basketball team and the staff.
“He was very passionate about the game,” the coach said. “I mean, at one point I talked to the team about learning how to do left-handed layups, and most of the kids didn’t want to do it because it’s awkward and it makes them feel like they don’t know how to play. But I would catch (Andrew) in practice, when no one else is doing it, and he’d be working on his left-handed layup. And, you could see the pride he had when he was starting to get it.”
Sparboe said Gaston understood that persistence and hard work are how you accomplish things in life.
“He was one of those kids that you knew when he graduated, he would succeed at whatever the next step was for him,” Sparboe said. “And he was beginning to see that in himself.
“He was beginning to believe that he could do things that maybe he wouldn’t necessarily give himself credit for before. You know, as a school and as teachers, we give them opportunities, but they have to step up, and that’s what (Andrew did). He made the job worth doing. He made the work worth it.”
Officials ask that anyone with information about the shooting to contact the Cedar Rapids Police Department at (319) 286-5491 or Linn County CrimeStoppers at 1-800-CS-CRIME, or text CRIMES (274637) and in the message/subject, type 5227 and your tip.
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