The students of Thomas High School wriggled into their seats in the auditorium for the First Day assembly. Teens chattered about new school clothes and shoes; football players grunted projected sport stats. They all, more or less, put out of their mind what happened early in the summer.
“Gimme a ‘T’! yelled Coach Havers, who was answered with a loud and enthusiastic ‘T!’ and cacophonous applause. The usual call to order for assemblies was to spell out T-H-O-M-A-S and then sing the school song.
“Gimme an ‘H’! The deafening response was rolled with the thunder of stomping feet on the auditorium floor.
“Gimme an ‘I’! Coach yelled.
“What?! Is this a joke? Is he getting so old that he can’t spell anymore?” The students bumble bee buzzing of confusion did not deter Coach Havers.
“Gimme an ’N’!” The mumbling stopped. The coach fumbled for a handkerchief from his pocket for relief from the beading perspiration that irritated his red face. He gripped the edges of the podium with white knuckles and took a deep breath.
“Gimme a ‘K’! he whispered, hoarse with emotion.
“Where is he going with this? Can we go now? Could this get any weirder?” the students whispered. Even the ones who had an inkling were shocked in the next instant.
“Your friend, Cappy Clark, died last night.”
He let the news sink in for a moment, prayed for strength, then continued.
“If you are new here and don’t know Cappy, let me just say that he will be remembered for his winning smile, open friendliness, academic and athletic excellence, and his faith in God. He wanted to be the captain of the Thomas Tigers from the time he was a little guy. That’s why his family nicknamed him “Cappy” and it stuck. He almost made it. He wanted to go to college and study kinesiology and coach a football team. He almost made that, too. He wanted to marry Elaine someday. She transferred to another school, shortly after the accident. As most of you know, Cappy got drunk one night early in the summer and drove his car into a brick wall downtown, going 90 miles an hour. If he had lived he would have been a paraplegic.
I happened to be paying a visit to him last night. His parents and I were blessed with a few moments of consciousness just before he died. He looked at his mom and dad and said, “I’m sorry.” Then he looked at me and said, “Tell them to think.” After that he was gone.”
Coach Havers looked out into the assembly. For a strange few seconds the seats were filled with all the faces that had been lost over the years. The school lost students way too often to drunk accidents, drug overdoses, or some kind of violence. They were all there looking at him, echoing Cappy’s words.
“Think, you guys. Think what has been lost. Cappy suffered terrible mental anguish over how he didn’t stop to think and act on what he knew to be true. His physical injuries were far overshadowed by heartache over what he had done to his parents and siblings, his friends, his life; what he could have made of it. Your teachers, your parents….haven’t we told you from the beginning? Don’t drink and drive, don‘t…” He put his hands over his face and gave way to the sobs that had been rising up inside him.
“That’s…that’s all.” Coach Havers left the stage. The student body seemed glued, speechless, to their seats.
One of the guys on the football team stood up and quietly repeated something over and over until the other guys joined him. They soon gained volume and power. The rest of the students stood and joined them.
“Thomas Tigers Think! Thomas Tigers Think! Thomas Tigers Think!!” Soon, 600 voices were raised in the chant. Some of the students cried as they echoed over and over again the tribute to Cappy and to the new motto for Thomas High School.
The team dedicated every game that year to Cappy Clark. The school adopted a new jersey, designed by students, that added three ‘T’s roaring out of the tiger’s mouth. There was not one accident or death from drunk driving that year.
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