COLD SPRINGS —
Friday’s Cold Springs Invitational should’ve been a dreary affair for the Vinemont track and field team.
But that’s not the way Steve Mayo would’ve wanted it. And it certainly wasn’t the way senior Jessica Douglas was going to let the evening proceed.
Douglas and the Vinemont community weren’t even 48 hours removed from learning of Mayo’s unexpected death. Mayo, 48, was a computer technician for Cullman County Schools, an avid supporter of the Vinemont track program and had served as a throwing coach for the last five years.
“Ultimately, there is a sadness in the air, just because he’s not here, because we’re so used to him being around,” a heavy-hearted Douglas said shortly before the start of Friday’s meet. “But we know that he would not want us to do anything less than our best today, so that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go out and kick tail, everybody’s going to set personal records and then everybody’s going to get ready for the county meet.
“And the rest of the season is all for him.”
For Mayo, it was always all about the kids.
He, along with his wife, Crystal, was a foster parent who extended the same love to the children inside his house as he did to the ones he encountered away from it.
Douglas felt fortunate to have often been on the receiving end of that love. Due largely to Mayo’s motivation and guidance, the then-sophomore was able to cap off her first season in the sport with an appearance at the state track meet.
“Going from somebody who had never thrown before to somebody who was top 25 in the state, it meant a lot to me,” Douglas said. “But really, I know it meant a lot to him because that’s the kind of person he was. He always thought of kids before he thought of himself.”
When Mayo wasn’t dedicating his time or money to the perenially successful track team — he never received a dime or asked for anything in return — he was kept busy helping “everybody he could talk to, just by words of encouragement.” In many cases, that encouragement was delivered in the form of a “stupid joke,” the kind that could instantly turn a kid’s bad day into a good one.
The inside joke Mayo shared with Kurtis Brawner was that he’d playfully call the senior a little girl no matter how far any of Brawner’s heaves were. Even when the teen became one of the state’s best small-school throwers, the rhetoric never ceased — and that was more than OK by Brawner.
“He’d walk up to me and say, ‘I’ve seen little girls throw farther than that,’” Brawner recalled with a smile. “Every time I’d come back out and throw farther.”
The Eagles have appeared poised to make a run at the Class 3A state championship all season. Even still, Brawner said it had felt like the team was “kind of split up,” girls on one side and guys on the other.
In the short time since Mayo’s death, though, that issue has already been resolved. Both sides are now bound together by grief, and they’re moving forward together by dedicating the remainder of the season to their late coach.
Vinemont coach Robin Netherton described Mayo as “the most encouraging, positive person you ever met.” He credited Mayo as a man who could talk kids into coming out for track that even he couldn’t and then turn around and get the best out of them in the process.
“He never had a bad day,” Netherton said. “He always loved the kids no matter who they were or where they came from. He was just a good guy.”
This year’s eventual trip to Selma for the state meet won’t be the same for Taylor Evans. The senior said he’s been thinking a lot lately about how he regularly rode south with Mayo, whose penchant for listening to the same radio station and singing along was always good for long-lasting laughs.
“Words can’t even begin to describe Steve Mayo. He was a friend. He was a coach. He was an inspiration to us all,” Evans said while fighting to keep his composure. “He would give anything just to make all of us smile, just to make all of us do our best in everything we do.
“It’s just unbelievable how much he’s touched all of us. It makes us want to go harder and harder every time we run. Every time we practice, every time we do anything, it’s for him from now on.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.