By R. Alan Richardson
Everyone knows the tragic story of a family losing their son this past football season. Seth Stapleton lost his life in a one-car accident early in the morning after the homecoming football game. However, this is not a story to bring up those terrible memories. It’s a story of a team and coaching staff that have reached out to their fellow competitors. It’s a story of what high school athletics are all about.
The Blue Devils and the community of Elberton, Georgia exude what class is all about. The first week after the accident Morgan County played Elbert on the road in an 8-AAA matchup. They first honored the Stapleton family with banners on the field that expressed their sympathy that night, and have now donated a beautiful granite bench to the Dogs in his memory.
Most people who have never played sports do not understand the comradery of athletes who bleed, sweat, cry, and laugh together in that locker room. They also do not understand the brotherhood of fellow competitors from different schools. It’s like a fraternity between players and coaches. When you hurt we hurt with you.
The bench is now permanently located in front of the Legion Field/Bill Corry Stadium fieldhouse on the parking lot side. Every player who comes out of that locker room will see this memorial and be reminded of him and his family. He will not be forgotten thanks to the generosity of so many in the Elbert County football family.
Vince Fernandez, a community coach at the school is also the President of Landmark Granite Company. He has been instrumental in the project and said, “We are a family owned business since 1968. It’s the granite capital of the world with 40-50 companies. We produce more granite monuments that any other one location in the world. It’s unfortunate that these things happen too often. We saw what happened and wanted to reach out to the Bulldogs and the Stapleton family. They are a region opponent that lost one of their best and brightest in Seth. We’ve done this in the past for one of our own and a player at Franklin County. It was just the right thing to do from our perspective.”
The bench seat was produced from black granite that came from Virginia. Defensive Coordinator Mike Williams runs the granite lab at Elbert County High School, a vocational class that teaches students about the thriving granite business in Elberton. Many of them will go on to work in the industry after they graduate. The students in that lab were given the opportunity to saw, sand, and polish the top and sides of the seat. The supports are made from local Elberton gray granite. The memorial was delivered by Gary Williams, Mike’s Dad, with a truck equipped with a crane. He is the owner of Granite Graphics in Elberton.
Ray Stapleton said, “The bench project has been completed for some time now, but due to some logistical problems they weren’t able to deliver it until now.”
Vince and Ray exchanged some emails that were shared with us. Here is a synopsis of those conversations.
From Ray: “Vince, it has been truly amazing the outpouring of support. Both of our sons were heavily involved in sports. It builds character, class and commitment. Again, my family is touched by your generosity and love for our family! Ray, Angela, and Drew.”
From Vince to Ray: I want to say even though we do not know you and your family personally, as a Coach, Father, and a person who truly believes that athletics build an extended Family, all of us who participate here feel that our competitors and fellow sports Families are truly part of that extended Family. We all share those same feelings of love, support, and pride. The miles between us do not change the fact the we are all walking in the same shoes and down the same paths in life, and Brother we share in the sense of loss and we want to do anything we can to help anyway we can. The Bench is just a product of what we do every day here at our school and my granite company, so it’s just a small gesture we can make for Seth, his teammates, classmates, and future players. Those people can use, walk past, and have great memories of your Son and what he meant to the Athletic Program, Morgan County High School, church and community. So, it is the least we can do. I wish we could do so much more to try and give you all more comfort. I want you to know that all Families in the Region are with you and behind you and share with you the Pride that a Family has for a Son, and will remember all the best that your young Man represented to his Team and his School. I share in that Pride with you and your Family and remain your Brother in Christ.”
Athletic Director also received this email from Fernandez, “The ECCHS Granite lab, under the supervision of Coach Mike Williams is planning a Tribute Granite Bench In Memory of Seth Daniel Stapleton. Our community is saddened by the loss of one of your best and brightest and wants to do something as a tribute to him and his family.”
Mr. Stapleton ended with these comments, “My Dad was 46 when I was born. I tried to never miss a game. On the channel five video after the accident, you can see him look up into the stands at us to make sure we saw the pancake block he made on a touchdown run by the Bulldogs. I’m truly thankful for that.”