Sports Editor Will Hammock
The visiting Howard (Tenn.) football players were visibly distraught, and rightfully so, after a Sept. 27 road loss to Greater Atlanta Christian.
Their emotions had nothing to do with the game’s outcome, though. The 67-20 loss was rough, but it was followed by news that their locker room had been robbed during the second half.
Roughly $7,000 worth of cash, phones and other items were taken. Of the 40 players on the team, 24 had items stolen.
GAC assistant coach Charles Edwards did his best to console one of many upset Howard players.
“By this time next week, this will be resolved,” Edwards said to a doubting teenager.
Because of the GAC football community and others involved with the Norcross private school, it was made right. Edwards and GAC head coach Tim Hardy, the representatives of the Spartans’ good will, drove to Chattanooga last week and completed the mission.
They presented a check for the missing $7,000 amount — a total donated by a number of GAC parents, supporters and teachers — and thanks to a rush order from Titan Team Sports also gave the players each a Howard Hustlin’ Tigers shirt from Under Armour.
The unexpected gift also made a believer of the player Edwards talked to after the incident.
“The boy didn’t believe (Edwards),” Hardy said. “So it was nice to walk into the gym, see Coach Edwards shake his hand and tell him, ‘I told you it would be taken care of.’”
The GAC giving didn’t stop at the players, either.
Up next on the gift list were the coaches at Howard, an inner city school in one of Chattanooga’s poorest areas. They operate on game nights without headsets to communicate from field to press box, but they should be set for years now as the extra GAC donations were used to purchase nine new headsets for the coaching staff.
“It was neat because of the number of people who stepped up to respond,” Hardy said of GAC’s fundraising. “It wasn’t one dad who wrote a big old check. It was the number of families who did that. I had a fourth-grade teacher, with no kid playing football, donate. Other coaches here donated because they thought what happened wasn’t right. Kids who go here (donated).
“We wanted to say, ‘that’s not who we are’ and we want to take care of these guys. For us at Greater Atlanta Christian, Christian is not just a moniker. It wasn’t about returning what was lost, it was about making things better than they were before.”
If not for GAC’s small region, the two teams probably would have never met. But Hardy, struggling to put a schedule together when he was hired, had to search surrounding states to fill up his 10 regular-season games.
The two teams may never play again, but they have a strong relationship now.
“Sometimes our kids don’t get the feeling of someone else caring about them, someone outside of our school community,” Howard head coach Mike Calloway told Chattanooga’s WTVC-TV, “… there are good people in this world. Even though you may have been done wrong, there are people who care about you, and are willing to make it right.”
The crime was disheartening to the GAC supporters because they took special care to make the Howard team feel welcome. They hosted the players and coaches at a pre-game meal, then also planned a post-game meal. As soon as the game ended, their best intentions turned into a worst-case scenario — some Howard players went home in football pants because their others were stolen.
Though no arrest has been made of yet (the Gwinnett County Police investigation is ongoing), the situation has been taken care of by the GAC community.
“It’s neat to have the privilege to lead a program that has people with the kind of character the people have here at GAC,” Hardy said. “It was nice to have the opportunity to bless the coaches and players of the Howard team, and be able to do that in a tangible way. It was a pleasure for me and Charles Edwards to go up there, look in their eyes and make things right.”
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.