By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Bo Jackson long ago proved he could do it all on the football field and the baseball diamond, so when the multi-sport athlete announced his latest venture would involve a bicycle, people were willing to listen.
Like most Alabamians following the April 27, 2011, tornadoes, Jackson wanted to help those affected in any way possible. Unlike most Alabamians, though, Jackson’s popularity has given him an unparalleled platform to stand on.
As he traveled all over the state and witnessed firsthand the destruction the deadly storms left in its wake, the former Auburn running back and Heisman-Trophy winner hatched a plan.
Bo was going to bike Bama.
So on April 24, Jackson hopped on a bike in Henegar and took off with the goal to ride 300 miles down to Tuscaloosa and raise $1 million for the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund. He wasn’t alone on his journey, either, having friends and sports stars like Lance Armstrong, Ken Griffey Jr., Scottie Pippen, Picabo Street, Tim Jackson and Al Joyner, among others, by his side at different times throughout the grueling trek.
Jackson’s second full day of riding came to an end in Cullman, and boy, was Cullman ready for Bo. People lined the streets on 278 West to watch Jackson and Co. ride by, and a larger-than-life crowd anxiously awaited outside Hibbett Sporting Goods in the Town Square Shopping Center to welcome the multi-sport legend to town.
Once stopped, Jackson spent a few minutes speaking to Gov. Robert Bentley, who was in Cullman for the re-opening of the Busy Bee Cafe, before turning his attention to a few lucky local kids who were about to make a memory they’ll likely never forget.
Pippen had heard about Hanceville High’s gymnasium being damaged beyond repair by the April 27 tornadoes, so he reached out to the Bulldogs’ boys and girls basketball teams — who were and still are playing their home games at Wallace State’s Tom Drake Coliseum — insisting on visiting with them during Bo Bikes Bama’s stop in Cullman.
“I just wanted to meet them, see how their spirits are and give them the opportunity to meet me,” the former Chicago Bull superstar told The Times. “When you look at the whole picture, this is about them and everyone else that has lost a lot through the storms. Coming here, seeing them and lifting their spirits hopefully means a lot to them.”
Hanceville’s boys and girls wound up getting a lot more than a quick meet-and-greet with Pippen, however. They were also given the chance to talk to, take pictures with and get autographs from Jackson and Griffey Jr.
Sheldon Lewis, a Bulldog multi-sport standout in his own right, was practically in shock after receiving college advice from the future Major League Baseball hall-of-famer.
“He (Griffey Jr.) was just telling me tips about college. He said get it done in school, get my options for college down right now in my junior year and be thinking in my mind where I want to go,” Lewis told The Times. “It’s not every day somebody like that comes up to talk to you about college. It’s a pretty big deal.”
Becky Cobb, who has since moved on after spending a season as Hanceville’s girls basketball coach, was glad to see her student-athletes be rewarded after enduring so much pain and suffering from the tornadoes.
“It made me feel good for some of those kids because it was a chance of a lifetime for them,” she told The Times. “Hopefully they’ll understand that those people (Pippen, Griffey and Jackson) are human, and that they made something of themselves. I told the kids, ‘These people are just like you. They just worked hard and got after it.’”
Cobb then had a message of hope that continues to ring true eight months later — despite the tragedy and devastation, there’s still a bright future to look forward to.
“It’s coming, and we do know it’s going to happen,” she said. “When you’re at the bottom, there’s only one way to go, and that’s up. It’s going to get better.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.