A freshly planted live oak stands in a fork of a sidewalk circling Purser Family Park in Harker Heights. Although many trees of all sizes make their home in and around the park, this tree is special.
This tree represents the life of Daniel Metaska, a unique young man who never met a stranger, who relished life with the unbridled joy of a child and left this world much too early.
The Parks and Recreation Department’s Superheroes sports program for special-needs children recently dedicated the tree to Metaska, one of the original Superhero athletes, who died in October at age 17.
“I got to meet Daniel one time, and he made me feel like his best friend, he truly did,” said Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Bark at the tree dedication ceremony. “At that moment in time, I guess I was his best friend. He was into me and I was into him and it was a great moment.”
Metaska lived with his parents, Jennifer and Chance Roden, and five brothers in Harker Heights. As an infant, he had his first Grand Mal seizure and later was diagnosed with epilepsy and mental retardation, his mother said.
“In some ways he was on the level of a kindergartener, a little lower on others,” Roden said. “His speech was delayed and his fine motor skills were challenged. Everything was very concrete to him.”
Metaska grew up watching his athletic brothers play sports, and he yearned to play, too. But his disability kept him from participating in mainstream sports programs, Roden said.
“It was so difficult for him to stand on the sidelines and watch his brothers play; he’d say, ‘Mommy, it’s my turn,’ and it was heartbreaking.”
Chance to play
In 2010, Roden was the first person to register for the city’s new Superheroes sports program. The Superheroes meant everything to Metaska, according to his mother.
“Every day that he was part of that program, he would come to me and say, ‘Mama, I got my soccer game today,’ and I’d say, ‘No, no, Daniel, it’s on Tuesday,’ because he thought every day was a chance for him to get out,” Roden said. “And when he was playing his game he couldn’t be happier.”
Metaska loved soccer the most, but he had the opportunity to participate in each Superhero sport before he died. That makes Roden even more grateful for the city’s timing in launching the program.
“If they hadn’t done it when they had, he wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” she said.
On an early October evening, Roden tucked her son into bed as she usually did, kissed him and said, “Good night, Daniel, Mommy loves you. I’ll see you in the morning.”
When she checked on him later that night, he was gone.
“They don’t know why he died … he was healthy. … They think his body just gave out,” Roden said.
Through her grief, Roden can’t help but be grateful for the chance she had to tell her son she loved him before he died.
“I know so many parents who lose children to tragedy. You can never be ready, but I try to encourage parents to spend time with their children — housework is not important, schoolwork is not important. Take them to the grocery store with you, because you just never know.”
Although he is gone, Metaska will surely not be forgotten. He left behind friends and family members who cherish the memory of the happy little boy who saw the good in everyone, held no judgments and saw life as an adventure.
And in a park in Harker Heights stands a tree that represents the loving legacy Metaska left behind.
“He who plants a tree, plants hope,” Bark said. “We’re planting a live oak for Daniel Ray Metaska, a tree that is strong that will grow to be 40 to 50 feet in height. We want other families and generations to come to be able to look at the beauty and enjoy it.”