SULPHUR — I’d already seen an email and photos that described what happened near the end of the rain-delayed Louisiana High School Athletic Association/State Farm State Outdoor Track and Field meet, and it made my cry.
It was an open thank you letter to schools that competed in the Class 4A girls 4x400-meter relay from St. Thomas More track coach Shane Savoie.
A subsequent phone call I received from Lafayette Parish School System Athletic Director James Simmons about what happened should give all of us something to think about as we move forward in whatever our role is in high school athletics.
First, let me say up front that I did not see what happened because I was going back-and-forth from the track to the press box to complete two stories. But I truly wish I had.
But here’s the story as recounted by Savoie and Simmons, who worked at the meet as an official.
An STM runner collapsed at the end of the combined 3,200 meters race for Class 5A and 4A girls. At about the same time, a man also collapsed in the stands.
Medical personnel rushed to help the runner and man, who is the runner’s grandfather. The good news is that both the runner and her grandfather are doing fine.
But at the time, things didn’t look so good. Members of STM’s 4x400 relay started to lose their composure as they watched the medical personnel on site. The man who collapsed also is the grandfather of one of the 4x400 team members.
No one, including Simmons who was standing nearby, knows who stepped forward first. But within a minute or so, members of all nine relay teams were comforting the St. Thomas More relay team members.
All the relay teams held hands in a large circle at the LSU’s Bernie Moore Track Stadium and began to pray together. The teams involved were diverse. St. Scholastica went on to win the 4x400 race. Others involved were Plaquemine, Teurlings Catholic, Bastrop, DeRidder, Ben Franklin, McDonogh 35 and West Ouachita.
But to me, all of these girls are winners. In fact, if the relay teams don’t win the next LHSAA Sportsmanship Award, I’ll be shocked. It would be hard to find a better example of compassion during the heat of competition.
These are the kind of lessons we should all teach our children. And I agree with Simmons that this example should teach us adults, especially those determined to split the LHSAA into separate groups for public and private schools, an important lesson.
“They didn’t care who the other schools were,” Simmons said. “All those girls thought about was comforting the girls from St. Thomas More.
“That’s been my take on this all along — the kids don’t care who they compete against. I coached for a lot of years, and I can tell you my runners wanted to compete against the best to be the best.
“It seems to me that before we go off and split things, examples like this should be taken into consideration. The problem is not with the athletes or the competition, it’s with the adults involved and that’s a real shame.”
I couldn’t have said it better.