MORRISTOWN - Anyone in the Ohio Valley who attended or watched Jamboree In the Hills Sunday got to see a glimpse of the valley's newest little celebrity, Spencer Lay, 12, of Shadyside, on stage with Neal McCoy.
"Spencer is a great kid, has a great story and loves us," said McCoy, who is known for being a fan favorite at Jamboree In the Hills and for climbing up the side of the stage. "He has been through some tough times, him and his entire family, and if a simple, little old meeting with us can make him feel better and lift his spirits, then why not get him on stage and let him see our show; it's the very least we could do ... We are glad to be back at Jambo, we love this place and when something special like this Spencer story is able to take place, it makes it a little more special."
Spencer received his wish to meet his hero, Neal McCoy. He was given the chance to meet McCoy just hours before the country music star hit the stage as the last performing act of Jamboree In the Hills for the 17th year in a row.
T-L Photos/MIKE PALMER
Above, Neal McCoy and Spencer Lay hold up the American Flag as McCoy sings the national anthem. Spencer’s mother, Jennifer, told McCoy how much Spencer loved the national anthem. For more Jamboree in the Hills photos, go to cu.timesleaderonline.com.
"I think he has been overwhelmed," said Jennifer Lay, Spencer's mother. "He enjoyed watching the national anthem (this morning) ... (Spencer) will get on YouTube and will watch Neal McCoy sing the national anthem."
In honor of Spencer's love for the national anthem, McCoy brought him on stage to a crowd chanting his name and sang the national anthem with Spencer.
Earlier in the week, Spencer's wish to meet McCoy hit social media websites Facebook and Twitter. The valley rallied behind Spencer in hopes to make his wish come true. It was Friday that McCoy responded on Twitter, saying that he would meet Spencer on Sunday. McCoy even went as far as to call Spencer on Friday.
"I'm glad that with all the modern technology, sometimes it gets a little crazy ... but when you see it work like this and people text, tweet and Facebook us that there is a kid like that who is a big fan, we are glad that stuff works then," said McCoy. "My wife and I have a foundation in East Texas where we live that we started and it is called the East Texas Angel Network. It helps children like (Spencer) with life-threatening illnesses, serious illnesses with some of their expenses; we have helped a lot of families in Northeast Texas. We have raised about $7 million in 17 years."
"I am extremely grateful to our community. This shows what type of community we live in. I think people forget about that ... They all came together for (Spencer)," said Jennifer. "I am just really grateful for everyone in the valley ... He is extremely overwhelmed and words are kind of difficult for him to express his language, which he has had three surgeries to just to be able to speak, so what comes out is truly meaningful."
Just moments after McCoy's bus pulled into Jamboree In the Hills, the Lay family was invited backstage to meet McCoy. The singer was greeted by an excited Spencer who ran and jumped into McCoy's arms.
McCoy gave Spencer the opportunity to meet the Oak Ridge Boys who were moments from going on stage as well.
Kneeling down on the ground, McCoy spoke to Spencer and signed autographs for him and his family. Spencer gave McCoy a guitar pick necklace that read, "When words fail, music speaks," and a bracelet which read, "I am your biggest fan," and McCoy wore both on stage.
"This was Spencer's first year at school in Bellaire and he joined the band ... Music is his thing ... Music is normal to him," said Spencer's mom. "When words fail, music speaks and that is him. He comes alive with music."
Spencer is playing the drums, which can be hard for him, but his music teacher and aide have really helped him out. Spencer is also involved in the Miracle League and has been playing baseball for them for the last four years.
Spencer is not like most 12-year-old boys. He has a rare genetic disease that is unknown to many. This has caused Spencer many different birth defects, developmental delays and health issues, but yet he has not let this stop him.
According to Jennifer, the doctors told her family to enjoy him while they can and that was 12 years ago. In those 12 years, Spencer has undergone close to 30 surgeries to correct medical issues that keep arising.
For the Lay household, watching McCoy has become a staple every year during Jamboree In the Hills. Jennifer said that Spencer loves watching McCoy perform and will even try to play and sing along. "For whatever reason, Spencer just clicked with (McCoy)," said Jennifer. "Spencer doesn't do that with just anyone."
As the last day of Jamboree In the Hills winded down for this year, the medical tent reported that before today, they have seen 200 patients and sent 22 patients to the hospital. Several of these injuries were fractures and sutures due to the rain and mud that plagued Jamboree this year.
The sheriffs' reported that they finish on Monday afternoon as the last of the campers will leave. While there have not been any major incidents or accidents this year, there were several minor incidents with cars sliding into other cars due to the mud.
Van Dyne can be reached at email@example.com.