The Vols family lost a legend last week.
The passing of legendary sportscaster John Ward saddened the hearts of those who were lucky enough to enjoy his craft. In the days following his death, many of us have reminisced about the magnificent calls during historical moments of Tennessee sports lore. I know I certainly did.
The feelings invoked a sense of pride and passion that Vol fans cherish. It’s the same pride and passion that brought us all together to stop one of the most maniacal administrative decisions of all time.
Some called us crazy. Others said we were a lynch-mob. Well, we are crazy. We are crazy about OUR family. We are lovers AND fighters. We are certainly dysfunctional at times. You can sometimes catch us on Twitter cussing and berating one another on sports topics. But I will be the first to tell you that we will come to the defense of someone in need. We protect our own.
Case in point:
Last month my family took a vacation to Panama City Beach. I was excited to enjoy some quality time with family, especially my son. He loves both the beach and pool. He is autistic, so his sensory input is overwhelmed when he experiences the water. But it’s a good thing. Taking him to the beach or pool is like taking him to Disneyland.
On our first full day, I woke up that morning and took him straight to the pool. The resort we stayed at is unique. They have a raised pool area that sits on top of the parking garage. The beach entrance is five floors below. It’s a wonderful view. It is quite large, so there are two pools and two hot tubs on each end. A mushroom fountain and a sun bathing area is conveniently placed in the middle.
My son is taking full advantage of the various options for swimming and running, his two favorite activities. He anxiously jumps into the water over and over, swimming from side to side. He keeps getting out and running from one end of the entire pool area to the other. He can’t make up his mind which pool is better. He would spend no more than five minutes or so at whatever pool he was enjoying.
As a single dad, alone on supervising duties, I knew it would be a task to keep up with him. I would sit and watch him briefly play until he would take off like Evan Berry down the sidelines. I would get up, follow him and repeat. I did this for about an hour, just enjoying the opportunity to watch my son frolic in the simple thrills of life.
But there was one instance where he ran like Forrest Gump. Not just out of the end zone, but out of the whole stadium.
I am casually following his path to the opposite end when I suddenly realize he has disappeared. At first, I thought he jumped in the pool and was swimming around where I couldn’t see him. I quickly get to that end. I look in and around the hot tub and pool. No son in sight. There is a small gate in the corner, right next to the pool level balconies. That exit gives way to steps, which lead down to the bottom level smoking area. I run over there to see if he went out that gate.
We hadn’t been to the beach yet, so I know he is dying to go. My thought was that he took those steps down to the beach. I frantically ask the people out on the balcony if a child had exited that gate. They said no. They comment that they have been sitting there eating lunch for a while and would have noticed a child trying to escape just inches in front of them.
I start to panic a little bit. Where could he have gone?
I head back to the middle area and notice the doors that lead to the lobby. I go to the lobby to see if he ran in there. The resort is a high-rise. If he exited here, he can only go down the breezeway or in the lobby. As I approach the lobby, a woman asks “Are you looking for a child?”
“Yes!” I reply. The woman is suddenly confused and can’t remember which direction he went, but proceeds to tell me that a small child went running through that area. At this point I am beginning to feel like Halle Berry in the movie Kidnap. So many options to choose from: two different directions down the breezeway or the elevators.
Keep in mind my son is autistic and non-verbal. He can’t call for help or tell anyone anything. This is what worries me the most.
I decide to run down each end of the breezeway and open the doors to the emergency stairwells. I call for him and listen. I don’t see or hear anything on either end.
I am now about to lose it. My son is lost in a building with 25 floors. Or worse . . . he is lost in Panama City.
I decide to go back out to the pool area, just in case he ran back out there. As soon as I enter the pool area from the lobby, I see a man in a Tennessee Vols visor waving his arms at me. Then I notice he is pointing down at the beach. I get to the railing and see my son playing in the sand 400 feet away and five stories below.
I thank the man and race down to the beach. I retrieve my son and we make our way back up to the pool. When I get there, I am joined by my dad and step-mother. We exchange pleasantries with the man in the visor and thank him to no end.
Before we depart, he looks at me and says, “I saw your power T tattoo on your arm. How do you think (Pruitt) will do this year?”
This man didn’t know me. The first time I saw him, he was waving his arms at me like an inflatable air dancer. But he noticed me the whole time. He saw a power T, so he saw family. He calmly reacted to a crisis by keeping an eye out for me. I can’t thank him enough.
I don’t know how my son traveled five stories down to the beach. It doesn’t matter now. I am just glad he was found safe. I am also proud of the fact that a fellow Tennessean and Vols fan came to my aide. To tell you the truth, I expect nothing less. What gets lost in the disorder of the last several years is the fact we have stuck together through the roller coaster that has been Tennessee athletics. (There is a new book out which is an incredible read on this very topic. It is titled Decade of Dysfunction by Mark Nagi. Vols fan or not, go buy it now.)
We are a feisty bunch, but our love runs deep. Even in the midst of chaos. Vols help Vols.