David Edwards 1987-2008

A Spirit That Will Never Die
by Cary Clack
San Antonio Express-News ,  March 4, 2008

In the first half of a playoff game between Taft and Madison in the Alamodome in November 2004, a play left one of the young athletes prostrate on the field. I don't remember if it was a Raider or Maverick player who was injured, but as always happens in high school football games, the crowd fell into a worried and respectful silence.

But this time, the moment of silence was heavier, weighed down by a fresh memory.

One year earlier, in November 2003, in another playoff football game, Madison High School junior defensive back David Edwards became a quadriplegic after colliding with a wide receiver from Austin Westlake.

During the Taft-Madison game in the Alamodome, I'm sure that my eyes were just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of pairs that drifted, looking for Edwards sitting in his wheelchair on the Madison sideline.

Fortunately, the injured player walked off the field, something Edwards would never do again.

Whether we admit it or not, we often measure ourselves by the accomplishments, possessions or failures of others. It's by these measures that we feel envy because of what we haven't done or don't have. Or we are relieved -- or even feel superior -- because of what we have accomplished or obtained.

I attended a few Madison High School football games in the fall of 2004 and would always see Edwards with his mother. Although I never met the young man, I took measure of him and was forced to admit to myself, "David Edwards is a better man than you."

Because another way to measure ourselves against others is to see the strength and dignity with which they carry themselves in the most difficult of circumstances and to doubt that we could be as graceful and big -- maybe even to know that such grace and spirit is beyond us.

Edwards was 16 when life as he knew it and the life that he'd planned changed forever. Yet in every public appearance after the accident -- and there were many, because he never retreated into self-pity -- he beamed a smile the length of a football field and spoke with a cheerfulness and wisdom that defied his age and circumstances.

Nearly as impressive as the dignity and courage he showed the world were the genuine and unabashed love and admiration he evoked from friends, classmates and people who never met him, an outpouring that has multiplied since he died Wednesday, three days before his 21st birthday.

People don't respond to someone the way people have responded to Edwards simply because they feel sorry for him or even because he touches something in them. A person doesn't receive this kind of adoration simply because he survived a traumatic experience.

The only explanation is Edwards' heart and the immeasurable quality of his character.

I've seen and heard enough about him to know that had he gotten off the ground that November afternoon of 2003 and had he never lost the use of his limbs, the excellence of his being would still have won, through his silver-haired years, the same love and devotion that he inspired in his youth.

The North East Independent School District is considering names for the new football and soccer stadium that will be completed in 2009. Since Edwards' death, there has been a movement to name the stadium after him.

In the fifth stanza of "To an Athlete Dying Young," A.E. Housman writes:

"Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honor out,
Runners whose renown outran
And the name died before the man."

Not only did the honor of David Edwards not wear out, but it swelled even more in the last four years and three months of his life.

The man has died before the name, and his name will live because of the lives he touched.

With all due respect to those worthy of having a new stadium named for them, is there any doubt that for decades to come, young athletes should be walking and running in the David Edwards Stadium?

Cary Clack's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. To leave him a message, call (210) 250-3546 or e-mail cclack@express-news.net.