On March 13, 2016, the SunHerald of Gulfport, Mississippi, announced a contest: school choirs could audition to perform with the rock band Foreigner. And in addition to that opportunity, the chosen choir would win $500 for their music program.
A little more than a month later, Eric Funches stood in front of his students at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School as the results of the contest were announced. OSUE had won. The kids went crazy.
“That couldn’t have come at a better time,” Funches recalls. About an hour before that news, he had told his students he was retiring – despite the fact that this was his first year and there was still a month left of school. He was stepping down due to the effects of his health condition, acromegaly.
“I was in my mid-30s when we found out I had acromegaly. It was like I was going through puberty again. To say it was painful is an understatement.”
At that point, Funches had spent more than a decade living with acromegaly, a hormonal disorder that effects the pituitary gland and results in too much growth hormone. As a result of the condition, he suffered from brain tumors for five years and still experiences stroke-like symptoms because of the effects on his spine.
But during his time at OSUE, Funches tried to use his challenges as teaching moments. His students, he says, “got to see me have some good days and some bad ones, but that’s a life lesson for them.”
“Do your best at all times because life is not always fair.”
The unfairness of life is something the kids experienced firsthand shortly after they learned they had won the Foreigner contest. Only 25 students would get to accompany the band on stage, although there were almost 50 students in the choir. To choose the select few, the students were asked to write an essay and also had to audition for judges.
However, the concert, which was held on April 23 at the Hard Rock Live in Biloxi, ended on a positive note. Following their performance, the students of OSUE presented Mr. Funches with a special gift – a guitar signed by the band.