Former staff, students shine as inspirational role models at Billy Mills Middle School 

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A retired staff member and three former students were honored Wednesday for their positive contributions to Billy Mills Middle School and the Lawrence community.

Colleagues, friends and family gathered to recognize retired teacher and coach Kathy Stuntz and former student-athletes E’Lease Stafford, the late Travis Sanders, and Ekow Boye-Doe during the school’s 2023 Reasons to Believe ceremony.

Stafford, Navajo, took in the tributes while her mother, Teresa Stafford, and nephew “Mar Mar” watched and listened. Katie Biggers, a BMMS teacher and one of Stafford’s former basketball coaches at Lawrence High School, told the crowd Stafford changed her own life.

“She is the one kid that made me want to be a teacher. She just showed me how resilient kids are,” Biggers said while dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “I watched her grow not only as a leader, but I watched her grow on the court, and into one of the most beautiful, special people that I will have ever coached.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Katie Biggers heaps praise on E’Lease Stafford during the 2023 Reasons to Believe ceremony at Billy Mills Middle School.

Stafford graduated from LHS in 2018 as a four-time letter winner. In 2017, she helped lead LHS to its first 6A basketball tournament appearance in nine years and was named a McDonald’s All-American nominee and a member of the Native American Top 50 All-Star Team.

BMMS physical education teacher Jay Deiser read words of praise by Jeff Dixon, head girls basketball coach at LHS.

“E’Lease’s athletic abilities and accomplishments are well documented,” Dixon said in the statement. “The other side of E’Lease is even more impressive and special. She’s a kind, compassionate person and an incredible leader who truly cares about her teammates and everyone around her. She has always taken care of and uplifted those individuals, and that is always going to be her greatest legacy.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times E’Lease Stafford hugs one of her former teachers during the 2023 Reasons to Believe ceremony at Billy Mills Middle School on May 10, 2023.

Stafford will receive her graduate certificate in interdisciplinary studies this month from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she was named the Summit League Newcomer of the Year and averaged 15.8 points per game during the 2022-23 season.

The student-athlete previously attended East Tennessee State for three years, and Utah State, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and kinesiology.

Stafford said she would travel to Europe in August with hopes of playing professional basketball. But first, she’ll spend the summer with family and friends and working out.

“I’m just happy I get to see my old teachers and everybody that played an important factor in my life,” Stafford said.

Stafford’s siblings Stevie and Ashlei also attended the school, formerly known as South Junior High and South Middle School. The school was renamed in 2018 to honor Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge.

Travis Sanders was honored posthumously with tributes by Deiser; Cathy Hilliard, special education teacher; and Brad Stoll, adaptive physical education teacher and LHS baseball coach.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Brad Stoll

Sanders attended South Middle School. He was working there as a paraprofessional supporting students identified as emotionally disturbed and behaviorally challenged in 2013 when he died from injuries sustained in a car accident.

Hilliard, Sanders’ supervisor, described him as patient, “an invaluable resource” and “fair, yet firm.”

“A couple of years after Travis had passed, one of the students that he worked with came to see me … and as we reminisced, he stopped for a minute and smiled,” Hilliard, wrote in a tribute Deiser read to the crowd. “When I asked him what he was smiling about, he told me he was thinking of Travis and that he really missed him. We both agreed that we were all better people for having known Travis, even if it had been only for a short time. That was the kind of effect that he had on people and the students he worked with.”

Stoll said he thinks of Sanders every day and keeps a photo of him in both his office at home and at LHS. An award given annually to an LHS baseball player also pays tribute to Sanders.

Stoll referred to the former player as “a beautiful soul.”

“Nobody will ever wear number 1 again at Lawrence High,” Stoll said. “Even when I leave, I hope that that is the case. And I think it’s because of who he was as a kid and everybody here knows that. A lot of you know him and he just had a huge impact on Lawrence High baseball. I think in education, we always talk about leaving things better than when you found them. I think that’s what we tried to do. And everywhere he went, he left things a little bit better.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Jolene Pearson, left, and Regina Sanders smile as they listen to kind words shared about Regina’s son Travis Sanders, who died in 2013.

Sanders’ mom, Regina Sanders, sat nearby crying and smiling as she listened. She was flanked by family friend Jolene Pearson, her granddaughter Lane, and daughter Allison Carnagie, who also attended the school. Regina, a former employee in the school’s cafeteria, also felt support from a room full of friends.

After the ceremony, Regina said she missed her son’s smile the most, and after a decade without him she felt grateful to know others loved him so much.

“I told a friend earlier today, ‘What better of a Mother’s Day gift to get?’” she said. “He’s been gone almost 10 years, but it just seems like those that loved him will continue to remember him. And that makes a mother feel very proud.”


According to his obituary, Travis played football and baseball and graduated from LHS in 2008. He then attended Pratt Community College, where he played baseball. He graduated from Emporia State University with a bachelor’s degree in health promotions and worked in minor league baseball as an intern strength coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates before returning to South Middle School as a staff member.

Carnagie said she felt moved by the tributes to her younger brother.

“I’m just gonna say just how proud I am that he was even thought of for this,” Carnagie said. “I think it’s pretty cool to see how many other people thought so much of him.”

Deiser introduced Kathy Stuntz as “one of the pillars of this school” when he arrived there in the late 90s.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Lori Stussie and Kathy Stuntz share a hug.

Lori Stussie, now an LHS counselor, shared a tribute to Stuntz punctuated with inside jokes and playful anecdotes. Stussie recalled memories the pair made while working alongside each other at South Junior High as teachers and coaches.

“But honestly, I mean it with the utmost sincerity when I say, that in the three buildings I have worked for in this district and the 30-plus years of experience I’ve gleaned here, I have honestly never seen a teacher as amazing as Kathy Stuntz,” Stussie said.  “She’s literally the best. If you’ve witnessed Kathy in action, you know that she was born to be a teacher, whether you were an athlete, a student, a friend, a coworker or family.”

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Stuntz taught science for 21 years at the former South. She coached volleyball in the Lawrence school district for 16 years and earned Coach of the Year honors in 2006. She also coached cheerleading and track and founded the Power Volleyball Club.

Stuntz hails from Atlantic, Iowa. She graduated from the University of Kansas in 1990 – just one week before her son graduated high school. She thanked her husband, Dick, for encouraging her to go back to school. She said she always wanted to teach.

“I absolutely loved teaching,” Stuntz said. “There was never a dull day.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Retired teacher and coach Kathy Stuntz thanks her school family during a speech at Billy Mills Middle School.

Stuntz praised current educators and thanked them for their commitment to teaching during a difficult era. She urged them to “trust each other, keep the faith, and try to laugh as much as possible.”

“You deserve respect from this administration and this community. And they need to tell all of you that — a job well done,” she said. “I could never have done what you all did in COVID and I just admire you so much, and I’m glad so many of you stuck around.”

She referred to teachers as “the lifeblood of this district.”


“And you do make a difference. If you can just get to one kid, you have made a difference,” she said.

Stuntz’s children — Chad, Cori and Stephanie — all graduated from LHS. She retired in 2013 and enjoys playing golf in her free time.

The final 2023 inductee, Ekow Boye-Doe, known as “Paco” during his time at the school, did not attend. The former Kansas State University cornerback recently entered the Kansas City football team’s camp as an undrafted free agent.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Principal Andrew Taylor talks about Ekow Boye-Doe during the ceremony.

“He is not here today, but it’s for good reason,” Deiser said. “He was not drafted in the NFL draft … but the (Kansas City) Chiefs did pick him up and he tried out last week. And so he has made the team, and he has other obligations today.”

Boye-Doe was born at Accra, Ghana in West Africa and raised in Lawrence. He and his family emigrated to the United States 20 years ago.

Boye-Doe is a 2018 graduate of LHS, where he excelled as a receiver. Upon graduation, he was rated third-best player among Kansas’ graduates by 247Sports. At K-State, Ekow started in all games during his final two seasons and earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention by coaches for 2022 and First Team Academic All-Big 12 in 2020. He received a degree in social studies at K-State in May 2022. His brothers, Panyin and Kakra, also attended the school.

Each honoree will be recognized with a plaque and photo at BMMS. A framed poster explains the award’s significance. It reads: “The people on this wall are former students, former staff members, and members of our school community who have positively impacted both our school and our surrounding community. These individuals are all a shining example of how great our school is, how richly diverse our community is, and how they are all a reason to believe in both.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times E’Lease Stafford listens during the induction ceremony with her mother, Teresa Stafford, and nephew “Mar Mar.” Plaques showcasing Reasons to Believe inductees are displayed above the lockers behind them.
Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Lane and Allison Carnagie
Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Jay Deiser, physical education teacher at Billy Mills Middle School, talks about the impact Travis Sanders had on his community.
Molly Adams/Lawrence Times A framed photograph of Travis M. Sanders was temporarily removed from a trophy case for the occasion.
Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Adaptive physical education teacher and Lawrence High baseball coach Brad Stoll hugs Allison Carnagie, sister of the late Travis Sanders.
Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Kathy Stuntz greets Betty Norwood during the 2023 Reasons to Believe ceremony at Billy Mills Middle School.
Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Kathy Stuntz laughs while reminiscing on May 10, 2023.
Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Cori Green and Lora Wedd-Hardesty
Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Rebecca Lyles
Molly Adams/Lawrence Times E’Lease Stafford
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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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