Jeffrey, to the right.
Pics of Jalen Spriggins that will make you smile!
My father, Steve Tackett, died one year ago today due to liver failure caused by Stage IV cancer. He breathed his last as my son and I were landing at Hobby Airport in an effort for Camden to see him one last time. I had been saying goodbye for almost nine months. A big thank you to Allen and Tre Cage, who allowed me to work remotely for over two months so I could be with my Dad off and on over the last eight months of his life.
How does one best pay tribute to his father’s memory? I hope at some level my life is a reflection of what I learned in my Dad’s dying days.
Unless you’ve continued to live in the Dickinson area, are related or have remained a rabid Gator fan, chances are that you won’t recognize the young man in the pictures. If you look to the left in the parents’ night picture, a face you recognize will emerge.
I had originally intended a post exclusively on Jalen Spriggins to post on his first day of college. Hurricane Harvey ruined that plan. I’ve since been looking for the right time and here it is – the one year anniversary of Big Steve’s death.
Jalen was the recipient of a scholarship this year in my Dad’s name. That might lead you to believe that someone in my family had come up with that idea. Let’s just say it was a member of my extended family. Karen Beauchaw reached out to Stephanie, Maryann, and I earlier this Spring. She had learned of a hard-working, smart young man soon to be a graduate of DHS who needed some help to attend UTSA. She wanted to provide him the financial assistance he needed and put the scholarship in my Dad’s name.
This was an easy cause to get behind. The fact is that I had received a scholarship from local businessmen in the Dickinson community that allowed me to attend the college I wanted to attend. It was now my time to give back.
This blog was the perfect excuse for me to satisfy my curiosity about Jalen, so I reached out to him. The results of that call revealed three things: 1) a case of mistaken identity; 2) my limitations as an interviewer and conversationalist; and 3) a worthy recipient of a scholarship with Steve Tackett’s name on it.
Let’s start with the mix up…When I saw the “Spriggins” name, I knew the family. Somewhere along the way, some relayed that Jalen was the son of Troy Spriggins, a former Gator football star. That made sense. I’d worked at the Dickinson School Dept. with Troy and liked him. I had once witnessed Troy perform an act of superhuman strength unloading pallets of paper from a box truck. The idea that his son would be a starting H-Back for DHS just made sense…except it wasn’t true.
Naturally, the first thing I asked Jalen when I got him on the phone was about his father, which veered in a different direction when he explained his dad had played baseball, not football. Jalen’s dad was Jeffrey Spriggins, fellow graduate of class of ’89!
The interview was pretty short. It reminded me of some of the conversations I had through the years with his dad, Jeffrey. Jalen’s a man of few words. Very polite, accommodating, genuine, and sincere. He’d answer any question I asked, I just needed to ask the right question. Interviewing Jalen was a job for Darlene Powell Price, not me.
Here’s what I learned in the half hour we spent together. Jalen’s interested in study political science, business, and pre-med. He chose UTSA because it wasn’t too close, nor too far away. He might walk-on in the Spring to play football, but he had to establish himself as a student first. Jalen was a kid who chose good friends and stayed away from trouble. And, yes, he knew Troy, Archie, and Stanley, among others. I wished I’d asked him if he knew Cain and Marcus and some of the guys with whom Jeffrey enjoyed playing baseball.
I came away feeling really good about Jalen and his future.
The story doesn’t end there, though. The elder Steve Tackett’s death was the biggest driver of my blog, gatorsonlylater.com (GOL). Through this blog and social media, I have reconnected with dozens of my former classmates and kept tabs on hundreds of others. The best part is that other people have reported similar experiences through GOL. It’s amazing what I have learned about shared memories through the lenses of adulthood’s life lessons. Thanks to each of you who have participated or gone along for the ride.
More specifically, GOL led me to Kathy Rose. We bonded over cancer. Kathy shared her writing with me. We somehow became closer than we ever were as kids. Because of Kathy, I had the opportunity to learn how to fund raise (hint: find a cause or person in need people care about, then get Kendal Smith Lake and John Scarborough to make inspiring videos).
GOL and my time in Dickinson reconnected me with Karen Beauchaw. I could never say “no” to anything Karen or her husband, Wayne, ever asked of me. That led me to helping Jalen but it also set me on a path of learning about scholarships for high school seniors (and, how if you don’t have a foundation organizing the activity, you better be on top of your game).
Harvey came. I was watching my hometown succumb to the floods in real-time, thanks to CNN, The Weather Channel, and social media. Then, the most amazing thing happened…GATA spirit took over. Dickinson was no longer a town of black, brown, and white. Instead, it was what I remembered – a town and a team where everyone was blue and white with a little red trim (stole that straight from the Dub Farris playbook).
Then came a late night text message from Allison Farris Fox. Along with Allison and two big-hearted former teammates (Eric Driskell and Bernie Smiley), I’ve been able to take the lessons I’ve learned in 2017 and apply them to the “Adopt A Gator” campaign, raising money so needy DHS students harmed by Harvey’s devastation could continue their college dreams.
In summary, this post was intended to be about Jalen Spriggins and his father, Jeffrey. As you can see, though, it’s just as much about me and my Dad. As I reflect on the past year, the impact it’s had on me, and the goodness that has somehow flowed from such a hurtful event, I now know his death was not in vain. As much of an old school hardass as he could be, I know he’d be proud.
The happiest picture I have of my Dad, bottom left; of course, it was taken when he was a Gator coach!