John Mark Stallings, son of former University of Alabama head football coach Gene Stallings, passed away Saturday, apparently of complications from a heart defect he's had since birth.
I never met John Mark, but I did see him once during a visit to the University of Alabama campus I took several years ago with a television station that was carrying the coach's show. As a perk for their advertisers, the sales reps for that station took several of us to the campus to meet Coach Stallings and to watch a little of the varsity basketball team's practice.
This was when Wimp Sanderson was still head basketball coach at Alabama, and he was always fun to watch. That day's practice was no different. But I noticed a young man on the sidelines, carrying towels and getting along famously with the players. Even from a distance, I could see the tell-tale signs of Down Syndrome. "Coach Stalling's son," someone nearby said in response to someone else's question. It was the first I'd heard of the coach having a son with Down Syndrome.
From that point on, I paid attention to stories about Coach Stallings and his son, and learned of the young man's joy in watching the Tide play and hanging out with the players. Despite his infirmity, in some ways he lived a dream, and I'm so glad of it.
My condolences to Coach Stallings and the family.