March 9, 2021

Best Read of 2020: ‘Time to heal paused for time to feel’

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We read a plethora of news and sports articles from around the area in 2020, but none garnered our attention here at The Heard Citizen more than a piece written by Joe Medley over at The Anniston Star in Alabama.

Medley’s article in December featuring Nate Pike and Handley’s 4A State Football Championship win over Gordo was on point in every way.

Medley and The Anniston Star were kind enough to allow us to share the story here for our Heard County readers.

For those that may not know, Nate is a former Heard County student and the son of current Heard County High School teacher and head cheerleading coach, Mrs. Amanda Horn.

We wish Nate and his family a continued strong recovery in 2021!

‘For Handley’s Pike, time to heal paused for time to feel’

(Tuscaloosa, AL) — The joyous scene in Handley’s locker room Friday saw a coach posing for pictures.

Maybe the most touching picture saw Larry Strain posing with his newly minted state championship players who served as managers in 2016, when he and Handley won their last state title.

The 2016 title played out in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. The 2020 title played out in Bryant-Denney Stadium and Handley occupied the University of Alabama’s locker room.

Strain, a former Alabama player, soaked in the moment. “Special,” he said. “It was special coming in this room and seeing all of the jerseys, racked up in the lockers.”

Perhaps the only human in the room happier than Strain was the guy wearing jersey No. 9.

The body-tight Crimson Jersey clung to junior linebacker Nate Pike’s upper torso like a hug. The gray hoodie he wore under his jersey draped more loosely to his matching team sweats.

He didn’t get to play with his teammates on this glorious day but he rode with them from Handley to Tuscaloosa. He rode with them for the first time since he suffered a stroke in the Munford game September 4.

“It was great, man,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do it but they wouldn’t let me.”

It’s not just because of the ever lurking covid-19 pandemic. Pike’s stroke let doctors to discover he has aplastic anemia.

His treatment might require a bone marrow transplant, but doctors hope to head it off. For now, his treatment is medication along with rehab on his left arm and hand, which went numb during the Munford game.

“It’s just a gradual thing, trying to get my bone marrow up to where it’s supposed to be,” Pike said.

Concern for his immune system kept him watching games from the press box this season. It also kept him off the team bus.

The whole episode kept him on the sidelines Friday instead of trading helmet paint in a game that aesthetically looked like the University of Alabama against the color-rush Green Bay Packers.

“It hurt me,” Pike said. “It hurt me real bad.”

That’s not to say Pike had no impact. Strain has called Pike a season-long inspiration, and Pike shared some of that during his halftime speech.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to wake up,” Pike said. “We can’t just waste this opportunity. This is our only shot. We’ve got one more half and let’s go get this thing.”

Handley’s 21-20 halftime lead swelled into a two-touchdown victory in one of the state’s mega church stadiums.

The defense, Pikes unit, pitched a second-half shutout against Gordo quarterback Tanner Bailey whom 24/7 sports lists as a four-star prospect.

When the postgame pomp and circumstance transitioned into relative family time in that hollowed locker room, Pike partied with his guys.

That blue Alabama High School Athletic Association champions trophy was as much his as theirs. His time to heal paused for a day to feel a part of things.

“It made my day to get to ride and do all this stuff,” he said. “In seventh grade I was a manager. In ’16, the managers dreamed about this moment, right here, with these guys. I’ve been playing with them since I was 6 years old. It was great.”

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