Injured athlete at heart of rally

The e-mails have helped. So have the telephone calls from family members and close friends and ordinary acquaintances and others Delphine Lakes never has met. Someone called from Canada. She didn’t know the person. It meant everything.

It confirms her faith and strengthens her spirit. Devastation has this way of being a link that binds a community, of blending different colored uniform jerseys into a rainbow of compassion and support. It has this way of bringing out the best in us.

This is what has happened since LaQuan Phillips was blocked in the back during a high school football game two weeks ago, since the 17-year-old defensive back fell forward and struck his head on another’s thigh, since about as pure an accident as you will discover in such a violent sport sent him to surgery with a bruised spine and countless others dropping to their knees in prayer.

“The human heart surpasses everything,” said Lakes, Phillips’ aunt and his guardian since the young man’s mother passed away eight years ago. “We may have different opinions and different points of views and different uniforms, but the heart remains the same, especially in times like this.”

Green Valley players wore a decal of their teammate’s initials and number on the backs of their helmets for a game at Arbor View on Friday evening: LP3.

They also wrote the letters LP across their arms and gathered at midfield before kickoff, accepting carnations from opposing players they soon would try to knock the stuffing out of, only to get beaten, 28-10. The other guys also had Phillips’ No. 3 on their helmets, another link to help reinforce the chain.

They stood together, shoulder to shoulder, red jersey followed by green and white and so on down the line, Aggies next to Gators, reminded of the risk they assume when taking the field and how quickly one’s fate can change because of it.

“Your heart stops when you see something like it,” said Daren Libonati, director of the Thomas & Mack Center and father to Green Valley senior quarterback Nick Libonati. “Your stomach feels sick. Any parent who was there when it happened … . You know it’s a numbers game, and you just never know what’s going to happen. Your heart stops.”

It is a miserable reminder that we can’t completely protect our children, that not the thickest padding might keep your 3-year-old from tumbling off a tricycle or the most technologically sound helmet from putting in doubt whether a young man will walk again. It is a dismal truth made only worse by the frustration of Phillips’ injury.

The senior didn’t even get hurt making a football play. It’s not as if he was using an improper tackling method or that he wasn’t giving maximum effort. He just fell forward at the wrong instant. Think of the scene in “Million Dollar Baby” when Hillary Swank is decked from behind and falls to the canvas, hitting a stool with her head. Think that kind of fluke.

“I let our players know this is a serious problem of which there is no quick fix,” Green Valley coach Matt Gerber said. “It’s going to be a long struggle and battle for LaQuan. Things can change by the hour — it’s a roller coaster of emotions. That’s been the tough part.

“But when you visit him and see how fantastic his outlook is — I’m not sure I could have the same positive attitude. He has a great outlook, a great spirit about him. It gives us all hope.”

The news turned encouraging this week when Phillips felt some pain and discomfort, even moving his shoulders a bit. Lakes said he is awaiting transport to a rehabilitation facility in Denver, made possible when the Clark County School District portion of medical insurance kicked in. The paralysis seems more temporary than ever now.

Meanwhile, others add more links.

Nick Libonati has organized several fundraisers, namely the selling of spirit towels and wrist bands with a No. 3 on them at home games and having his school and hopefully others across the valley take part in a three-minute window one specific day, when as much money as possible can be collected. The quarterback also will solicit local businesses to donate or match those funds Green Valley players raise, and a bank account is being set up in Phillips’ name.

The costs of his treatment, you can imagine, are exorbitant.

“LaQuan is always in the back of our minds,” Nick Libonati said. “We’re not going to quit on this season because he’s not going to quit on us. He’s going to work hard and do whatever it takes to get better. We need to do the same for him.”

Lakes believes it all will work out, that this is one of those anxious journeys into an unknown land her Bible speaks of often, when a higher being will guide and humble those most frightened.

“At first, you think you will be taking the journey alone,” she said. “But then you see all these young men standing shoulder to shoulder, you see the parents and grandparents and everyone else standing as one … .

“I am overwhelmed.”

The chain gets stronger in these times. It just does.

Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or

News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like