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South Albany senior Jordan Rogers, 18, was given the school's Hidden Hero award.

Jordan Rogers didn't place at this year's state competition for speech and debate.

But as far as South Albany High School is concerned, he deserves full marks for persuasive speaking for convincing an unwanted passenger to step off the debate team's activity bus. 

Rogers, 18, received a South Albany "Hidden Hero" award Tuesday for stepping up when a man tried to take a seat on the bus as the team headed home after the April 24 state competition at Western Oregon University in Monmouth.

At the university, Rogers competed in radio and prose. Anthony Ross, a junior, won first in the Student Congress division. Nobody else made it to the top places this year.

At about 10:20 p.m., the bus was approaching the intersection of Suver Road and Independence Highway. 

It was full dark by then and Rogers said he wasn't really paying attention, but he remembers the bus slowing down. He looked up and saw two vehicles on the left side of the road, and what looked like two figures in the middle of the road, one of them swinging a flashlight.

Rogers, who was sitting up front next to the door, said he remembers the driver, coach Patrick Leahy, opening the bus door to check out the situation. That's when a man stepped inside.

"This man came on the bus and was asking for a ride. I could smell the liquor on him. It was obvious he was drunk," Rogers said. 

The man asked Leahy if he could have a ride, and Rogers remembers Leahy telling him no.

Next, Rogers said, "He turned to the back of the bus like he was going to sit down. I stood up and got in his way. He kind of bumped into me, and I said, 'Sir, no.' I remember I specifically said that. 'Sir, no.'"

The man didn't respond, but he stepped back, Rogers recalled. "He looked a little dazed and confused, and he stepped off the bus."

Out the window, Rogers could see the other person, the one who had been holding a flashlight, talking into a cell phone. "We figured he was on the phone with 911," he said.

Polk County dispatchers did receive a report from the area at that time, from a caller who said a man in his 40s had been injured in a rollover of his 2004 Mustang. The caller said the driver left on foot headed west, and dispatchers said he was gone by the time medics arrived. No further report was taken.

As the South Albany bus resumed its journey, Rogers said he saw a drop of blood on his shirt where the man had bumped him, and another few drops on the floor and on the bus hand rail.

He doesn't know how hurt the man was, but when Leahy told him he couldn't come aboard, Rogers said he didn't think twice about stepping up to help enforce that. 

He said he also didn't have time to be scared, or to think about whether the man posed a potential threat to himself or his teammates. Thinking back, however, he said stopping to check was the right call, but he didn't think a school bus was the right vehicle, literally, to transport an injured and likely intoxicated stranger.

"It was just instinctual to stand up and make sure he didn't go," Rogers said. "We're a school bus. We can't take passengers like that." 

Principal Brent Belveal said Rogers did the right thing. The "Hidden Hero" award was created to recognize a student who works behind the scenes to make sure others feel safe, comfortable and accepted.

Rogers deserved the award not only for the bus incident but for all the ways he uses his voice for South Albany. In addition to speech and debate, Rogers reads the morning announcements and sings baritone in the choir, which competes at state this weekend.

"This year, we made the decision to recognize Jordan, not only for his actions on the bus but because of all the other things he does here on campus," Belveal said.

He called Rogers "just a solid young man that has quietly gone about making our school more successful and individual students feeling more connected and part of our school."