The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

April 15, 2014

Fútbol pay it forward: Tanner girls’ gift morphs into $4,500 donation from MA

50 families from Madison Academy combine to donate money for THS uniforms, equipment

By Kim West

TANNER — The two K-12 schools are only 17 miles apart, sharing a knack for bringing home state titles with11 combined Blue Maps in five team sports since 2009.

But the story of the Madison Academy and Tanner High School girls soccer programs isn’t about win-loss records or championship banners, with the experienced Mustangs headed to playoffs again and the young Rattlers working to build their program after going winless this season.

When the 18 members of the THS team heard about the death of senior classmate Alexis Hamilton, they decided to donate their uniform money to the family of the beloved 19-year-old, who died March 4 in her sleep.

Madison Academy parent and Athens resident Trevor Owens learned of the girls’ largesse when WHNT-19 photojournalist Dion Hose publicized their good deed after visiting Tanner for a “kiss the pig” story and discovering what inspired the fundraiser, said Tanner girls first-year coach Regina Montgomery.

Then 50 families with ties to the Mustangs’ boys and girls soccer teams decided to pay the Rattlers’ gift forward, pitching in to raise money to replace the $300 donation to Hamilton’s family with approximately $4,500 that was presented to Tanner on April 9.

“We knew that Madison Academy planned to give us a gift but I had no inkling it would be thousands of dollars,” said Montgomery, a physical education aide at Julian Newman Elementary School and a student-teaching intern at Tanner. “God is so wonderful ... I was so touched and we all cried — I cried with joy and happiness.”

MA assistant coach James Jay said the Tanner girls not only inspired his team with their generosity but also their sportsmanship in the midst of working toward building a winning program against opponents that are much more established.

“More than (the gift), it’s their incredible attitude because every time we play the Tanner girls team, they are encouraging to our girls,” Jay said.

Montgomery described the original donation as “seed money” that has produced multiple blessings for the THS program.

“Tanner Principal (Billy) Owens gave me the permission and honor of coaching the Tanner girls soccer team — there’s never a dull moment and the children and teachers are always friendly,” said Montgomery. “(Former Tanner girls coach) Jillian Chappell said, ‘You’re going to fall in love with these girls.’ And I am most excited that my girls’ actions have touched the hearts of other people.”

She said the MA donation would be used toward purchasing new uniforms, cold-weather gear and equipment that will be shared with the playoff-bound boys’ team.