PETALUMA — Oakland Raiders linebacker Neiron Ball interrupted Cliff Eveland’s wind ensemble class at Petaluma High School Friday for a pretty good reason.
Ball was there to present senior Michelle Larsen, a clarinet player as well as an honor student and elite wrestler, with a $5,000 check for being the Raiders’ 2016 Bay Area All-Star Team scholarship winner. Larsen, who finished second in the heavyweight division of the CIF state wrestling meet last month in Visalia and has a 4.17 grade point average, has also logged more than 250 volunteer hours as a wrestling coach and reading tutor. The Raiders honored her for her scholastic achievement as well as her commitment to community and work ethic.
Larsen also deals with multiple health issues including a brain tumor behind her left eye that requires her to wear a protective mask when she wrestles. She also has hearing loss in one ear, vision issues and a motor disorder that forces her to take extra time when reading a text.
“She is really just one of the nicest kids on campus,” said assistant principal Debi Richardson. “She’s just humble and works hard.
“She advocates for what she needs and gets it done,” she said.
In addition to the surprise visit Friday, Larsen will be honored at a home game of every participating Bay Area team: the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Giants, San Jose Sharks and San Jose Earthquakes.
Larsen’s grit was recognized by the Raiders Friday, and particularly by Ball, who knows a thing or two about perseverance.
The Georgia native lost both of his parents before he turned 10 and was raised by relatives.
As a sophomore at the University of Florida, he began suffering neck pain and loss of balance. It was determined that a blood vessel at the base of Ball’s brain burst from a condition called arteriovenous malformation. A stay in the emergency room led to surgery and radiation. He missed the 2011 season with the Gators.
A symptom of arteriovenous malformation? Apraxia — a motor disorder of the brain that Larsen has dealt with most of her life.
“I can definitely relate to her,” Ball said.
“I think she is amazing,” he said. “What she has accomplished is outstanding.”
After the Raiders contingent walked in and surprised the wind ensemble class mid-tune, the affable Ball even told the class he, too, was a musician at one time.
“I played the bass clarinet,” he said. “I wasn’t too good though.”
“Me neither,” called back sophomore and bass clarinet player Mario Naal.
Ball, who is currently rehabbing a knee injury that has sidelined him since week seven last season, stopped for pictures with more than just Larsen. He snapped selfies and chatted with staffers and students. He made a trip to the gym at lunch time, where a staff-versus-students dodgeball game was under way. He took the mic and teased that he was going to suit up for the staffers.
“We’re going to take the seniors out,” he said to cheers. “I’m playing. I’d like the teachers to win, though.”
Larsen, who was given a No. 16 Raiders jersey, described the meeting with Ball as an honor.
“It was really exciting and interesting to meet him,” she said. “I enjoy watching the games and to meet him in person was really nice.”