MONTGOMERY - Calling it "beyond his wildest dreams," former Alabama coach Gene Stallings joined his wife Ruth Ann and over 500 friends, family and fans at the official dedication of John Mark Stallings Field Friday morning on the Faulkner University campus.
In addition to the field being dedicated to their late son, who touched so many through the way he led his amazing life with Down syndrome, the Stallings learned that John Mark would be a permanent honorary captain of the Eagles' football team. JMS stickers will be displayed on Faulkner helmets the rest of the 2010 season.
"This is such a wonderful, unbelievable day for Ruth Ann and me – to have a football field named after little Johnny," said Stallings, whose daughter Laurie also was in attendance. "When I think about all the great players and great coaches who have been a part of this game, and realize that most likely they'll never have fields named after them, it really just touches my heart. Here's little Johnny, with his name on this field forever. We're just so thrilled and excited.
"And the fact that Faulkner University is a Christian university makes it that much more special. The main goal of any parent should be to help their children spend eternity in heaven. And we know that's where Johnny is today, looking down on all of us and smiling."
Glenda Major, the president of Faulkner's Leadership Council and a member of the university's Board of Trustees, welcomed the large crowd to the field located on the back side of campus. Henry Parker, another board member, gave the invocation, then Faulkner president Dr. Billy D. Hilyer spoke about John Mark's life, and how it mirrors the university's mission.
"John Mark loved people, and blessed everyone he came in contact with," Hilyer said. "His life served to exemplify the best kind of heart and spirit. He loved sports and with his name forever a part of our athletic landscape, we expect our student-athletes to remember John Mark, and to always know they have a duty to live and compete with the highest levels of character and sportsmanship."
The Stallings were presented with two large framed pieces – one of the captain's jersey's bearing John Mark's name, and a beautiful artist's rendering of the field. They were also given an Eagles' helmet with the JMS sticker on the back.
The long-time coach addressed the crowd, showing obvious emotion when he spoke of his son. John Mark passed away in August of 2008, and the pain that comes with missing his biggest fan is still evident.
"It was the saddest day in our lives, the day Johnny passed away," said Stallings, wiping away a tear. "And our entire family thinks of him every day. And today, we think of him with a wonderful smile, knowing how much this would mean to him. Please accept our heart-felt thanks and appreciation for this wonderful honor for Johnny. We'll never forget it."
According to Hilyer, Faulkner's fundraising efforts are continuing as the university has plans to soon build a stadium around John Mark Stallings Field. The field is lighted and is currently used for Eagles' football practices as well as men's and women's soccer practices and games. Hilyer hopes stadium construction will begin in 2011, which when completed would bring Faulkner's home football games to campus.
For more information please call Faulkner assistant athletic director Doug Amos at (334) 313-1170.
PHOTO CREDIT: RYAN BARTELS, FAULKNER