Saraland High School had just experienced one of the most disheartening losses in school history against bitter rival Spanish Fort.
Toros quarterback Tyler Johnston was nearly perfect in the surprisingly lopsided 41-18 road win between two of the best programs on the Gulf Coast. But the Toros’ on-field celebration was cut short when student Spencer Mitchell, president of the Spartans’ fan club, walked onto the field and got the attention of players, coaches and fans from both teams.
Mitchell had a presentation to make.
News had broken during that week five years ago that Jamie Milam, the 30-year-old wife of Spanish Fort athletic trainer Rob Milam, had been diagnosed with recurrent cervical cancer.
In an impromptu gesture of incredible compassion, Saraland students raised $800 on the day of the game to give to Milam to help during the difficult time.
There wasn’t a dry eye on the field as the money was presented to Milam. Sports once again served as the perfect backdrop for displaying all that’s good in all of us.
Fast forward five years, and it was the Toros’ turn to pay it forward.
Spanish Fort was scheduled to play Gulf Shores last week, but the game was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns within the Gulf Shores team. On short notice, Spanish Fort and Park Crossing (whose game with Russell County had also been canceled earlier in the week) decided to play each other.
Park Crossing elected to play despite the tragic loss of their starting quarterback, Keondre Hope, who died in an ATV accident three days earlier. Hope would have celebrated his 17th birthday later in the week.
Park Crossing coach L.C. Cole decided the best thing for his players during such an emotional time was to be around their football family.
Spanish Fort won the game, but that was secondary to the real story of the night.
The Spanish Fort community not only contributed financially to the Hope family, but they also replaced their Toro logo at midfield with Hope’s initials and number.
It was another reason to be proud of one of our communities using sports to make an impact much more important than teaching kids to block and tackle.
At the same time the Park Crossing players were seeing the midfield tribute for the first time, there was another tribute taking place just four miles away at Daphne High School. The Trojans were mourning the loss of Terrance Muse, who was only 18 when he died in a one-car accident earlier in the week.
Muse played defensive back for the Trojans last season. That meant he was around the program after the school began its tradition of allowing each starter a chance to introduce himself on the video board before kickoff.
In a gesture called “One Final Intro for Trojan Nation,” fans from Daphne and visiting Fairhope heard from Muse himself just one day before his funeral. Wearing his No. 29 jersey, Muse talked about what was special about being part of the Daphne program: “Well, just being part of a football program that I had grown up with. Being able to play with people I consider family — that’s a pretty big part of it all.”
Daphne principal John Comer shared a moving tribute to Muse on social media last week. In part, Comer wrote, “His life is part of our story. His life is part of our night sky — individuals shining and sharing their light, forming constellations of friendships across the skies of the Trojan Family. But unlike a star anchored in the galaxy, Terrance was a comet racing across the horizon. A light gone too soon. Terrance could enter a room, flash a smile and melt hearts. We hold tight to the moments we shared with Terrance and the lasting bonds he forged under the Trojan banner.”
With all that’s going on in the world today, there are legitimate questions being asked about the role of sports in our society. Should we even be playing games while so many continue to deal with the health and financial strains of a pandemic? Are we showing a lack of serious contemplation for the social injustice and accompanying civil unrest impacting our country today by playing games?
Reasonable people can have different answers to those questions.
But it’s misguided to frame the argument as serious, good people being appalled by the thought of continuing to enjoy sports as we’ve known them against shallow, bad people who just want athletes to shut up and dribble.
Even in tough times, sports will continue to be a reflection of the best of us as a society if we allow them to be.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on the new Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m.
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