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FROM THE SIDELINES: DHS seniors had rare strength

As long as I work in this business, I do not know that I will ever encounter a scene more gut-wrenching or maddening than the one that unfolded at Cramton Bowl on Friday, Nov. 21, 2008.

I stood on the sidelines and watched the realization of months of work as the Demopolis Tiger football team played the best it had ever played in the final two quarters of the AHSAA third round.

I saw them overcome their own deficiencies and put themselves in position to punch their ticket to the semifinals.

I saw the final seconds tick off the clock in an apparent DHS win and witnessed the ensuing jubilation. Then, I watched the outrage and subsequent melancholy as a penalty flag and a second-chance field goal ended the team’s run prematurely.

That same night I saw Shelby Speegle — a young man who loves nothing more than donning a uniform and stepping onto a baseball diamond — tear his ACL and hear for the first time that at least a portion of his senior baseball season was most likely lost.

All in all, it was an emotional night that will likely linger in my memory as long as I work in the business.

But it is not the disappointment of the evening that underscores its importance in my mind. Rather, it was the way in which the young men involved handled the misfortune of their circumstances.

Greg Irvin, among the fiercest of competitors statewide, didn’t hesitate to fall to the ground and bawl like a small child. Rick Boone shed tears as he wrapped his arms around his teammates. And Shelby Speegle made a decision that he would, in fact, take the mound for his Tigers on opening day.

Their examples will resonate with me for years to come. Irvin showed the depth of his strength by not being afraid to let out his emotions at an appropriate moment. Boone displayed an undue grace when he found the fortitude to continue serving as his team’s leader even amid its most trying of circumstances. And Speegle exhibited that a steely resolve and accompanying work ethic can overcome even the most daunting of circumstances.

For just over a year, I had the blessing of watching the athletes of the DHS Class of 2009. I saw them try. I saw them fail. I saw them succeed. I saw them grow.

But on that one night in late November, I saw them teach.