Just in case you weren’t aware, every small, southern town has some sort of festival or celebration in which the community gathers together in honor of a (sometimes) quirky theme. The Fire Ant Festival, Pig Jig, Wild Chicken Festival, and Shrimp Festival, just to name a few. Here in Ocilla, we celebrate The Sweet Potato Festival.
Recently, our local high school football coach, Buddy Nobles, was diagnosed with cancer. Over the last several years, he’s led our team to multiple championships, but more importantly, his influence on our community has been incredible. His players are inspired to greatness, not only on the football field, but in the classroom and their daily lives as well. Although my sons do not play football, they march in the band, and even they feel his influence. I can recall when he came to talk to the band during camp and encouraged them to play as loud as they could to pump up the football team and fans!
When word got out about Coach Nobles’s diagnosis, rather than just being devastated, our little town rallied together. Everyone got to work, doing what small southern towns do when there’s a crisis in the community. T-shirts, bracelets, and signs were made and sold, and most importantly, prayers went up. My Facebook feed is constantly bombarded with support for their family - from fundraisers to prayers to pictures of folks wearing red or white (our school colors) all with the hashtags #wegotyourbackbud or #Noblesstrong or #Irwinstrong or #Godisbigger. Our football field now bears Coach Nobles's initials, and the band even put him in the halftime show!
Before the Nobles family came to our little town, they actually spent several years in our rival town in the neighboring county. Usually, there’s a lot of trash talk in the week leading up to the rivalry game. This year, though, the focus was planning a “White-out Cancer” night, where fans of both teams dressed in white to show their support of Coach Nobles. It was a beautiful sight! My friend, Renee Hartley, took some incredible photos that night. You can see just how emotional Coach Nobles is at planting the spear in front of a such a supportive crowd!
Every game we’ve had, our opponents have made signs showing their support for our coach. Players on our team and many others wear Coach Nobles's initials on their helmets. Teams from all over the state we’ve competed against have made t-shirts and even taken up donations to give to the Nobles family!
Y’all, I have to tell you the truth. I enjoy watching a football game, but I’ve never been a diehard football fan. So, I’m not writing all this because I love football. And, although Coach Nobles has been a great influence in our community, I can’t say that I know him all that well. What I am hoping to point out here is the way our community - and communities all across our state! - have come together to show love and support during a crisis. That’s just what we do here in the South. We may have our differences, but when someone is in need, differences are put aside, and we focus on what really matters.
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Remember that we’re all just a moment away from being in a crisis ourselves. Let’s be kind and supportive, in all situations, no matter what. We’re all in this together.
**Photo credits: most of the pictures in this post came from the Irwin County Indians Facebook page, except those noted from the White-out game, which were taken by Renee Hartley (aka Photogirl).