A May 23 article in Prince William Extra incorrectly reported Ricky Benade's hometown. He lives in Gainesville with his father, sisters and brother. His mother lives in Haymarket. (Published 5/27/04)
Sleeping late, eating potato chips in bed and watching reruns of cheesy '80s sitcoms on a school day -- while your peers are sitting in class -- are among life's little sinful pleasures.
Ricky Benade, 18, of Haymarket, doesn't know about such things.
The senior at Manassas's Stonewall Jackson High School has never missed a day of school. Ever. At least since kindergarten -- his memories before that time are a little hazy.
Through a mixture of determination and luck, nothing has held Benade back from reporting to school -- not two broken arms (those happened on weekends), not a case of the chicken pox (summer vacation) and certainly not senior ditch day (didn't even consider it).
Now, he's 2 1/2 weeks from his ultimate goal: to not miss a single school day in 14 years.
"I think at this point, he'd go even with pneumonia," said his mother, Linda Benade of Haymarket.
While some students beg their parents to let them stay home sick, Benade remembers begging his mom to let him go to school sick.
"I guess I was a weird kid," he said, joking. When he was ill, which was rare, he would cleverly conceal it from his mom before school. "I would either not cough as much or just go to the bus stop," he said.
His sister Laurie, 14, a freshman at Stonewall Jackson, quipped, "You've gotten a lot of people sick."
The modest, quick-witted Benade said he set the goal for himself as a second-grader when someone brought into class a newspaper article about a local boy graduating from high school who had never missed a day. His reward: $100.
"I decided I was going to do that," Benade said. "It was something that I felt like I could do, so I did it."
Now, 10 years later, Benade's mother has promised him $100 on graduation day.
If she hadn't contacted a reporter, it's possible that only his family and closest friends would know about his accomplishment.
"I had to make the cycle come around," even if it meant embarrassing her son, Linda Benade said.
Ricky Benade said he hasn't tried to hide it. "But I haven't gone around bragging about it."
"He is very shy, and I know people are going to say things," his mother said. "He's going to be the center of attention, which he doesn't crave, except when he plays the guitar."
Benade approaches his music with nearly the same fervor as his goal of perfect attendance. He practices with his punk rock band Discard two to three times a week and at least an hour a day on his own. The band performs at parties, bars and restaurants in Virginia and the District.
Last week, the news of his attendance record spread at Stonewall Jackson.
His sister told some of her friends.
"They laughed," she said. "They were surprised. They said, 'That's weird.' "
Principal David Huckestein said he was speechless.
"I thought it was amazing, to be honest," he said. "I'm not quite sure -- in my 14 years in education -- if I've ever heard of someone who has gone straight through without missing a beat."
What does it say about Benade?
"That's obviously a person . . . determined and bound to be successful," Huckestein said.
Benade might be the only senior in his 500-member graduating class who can claim perfect attendance, said Terri Lenhart, the school's guidance director. "It's very rare to have a student who has perfect attendance in high school let alone through all 14 years," Lenhart said.
Prince William County schools doesn't keep track of students' attendance records at the county level, spokeswoman Irene Cromer said. So it's difficult to say how many Ricky Benades are out there.
As for the immediate future, Benade said he plans to take a break.
He hopes to get a summerjob and eventually enroll at Northern Virginia Community College's Manassas campus.
His proud mother said she trusts her son's judgment.
"It isn't up to me," she said. "If he follows his passion, if he wants to go study music, I'll definitely encourage him. I'll encourage him no matter what. He'll figure out whatever is next."