'A dream come true'

October 14, 2003|JILL ERWIN

Robert Parker did not need a jersey number to pick his son out of a pack of Centre College football players. He found his eyes.

Solomon Parker was standing in the end zone Saturday, stretching with his teammates and preparing for a game against Millsaps. The senior defensive end looked up and saw his father, Robert, who had never seen him play a down of college football, riding into the stadium in a golf cart.

They locked eyes; Solomon raised his arm in acknowledgement, his father did the same.

"It was just a feeling of joy that came over me," Robert said.

"I felt happy, and it was like a dream come true that he could actually watch me play," Solomon said. "I felt as if I had to play well enough to make him happy."

Robert Parker's legs wouldn't let him walk into Farris Stadium, but his heart wouldn't let him stay home. He was diagnosed with polymyositis, a rare disease that causes muscle to deteriorate, about 20 years ago. He said he was fine for a while, but then his legs started to get weaker. He now needs a wheelchair to get around.


That inability to get around easily has kept him from making the two-and-a-half hour trip from Franklin, where Solomon played for Franklin-Simpson, to Danville for his son's college games. The last game Robert had seen Solomon play in was his senior night game in high school, and he watched it from a car behind the goalpost.

A team effort brought Robert Parker to Saturday's game, and he wasn't alone. Also watching Solomon were his mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, sisters and cousins. Some of them had never seen him play at Centre, either.

That Solomon knew nothing of the plan was because lots of people worked together and kept a secret.

His girlfriend of three years, former Centre basketball and volleyball player Jordan Sutton, was the main force behind the gathering. Sutton heard about Robert not having attended a game and decided to do something about it.

"Our three-year anniversary is this month, so it's my present to him," Sutton said.

It was appreciated.

"It's everything I could dream of," Solomon said. "It means a lot to me that he made it. So many times I've tried to talk him into coming up, but he never thought he was able to. He always said he wasn't going to be able to come, and seasons come and seasons pass.

"You get down and out because you're stressed out, classes don't go well, it's just not a good day, practice isn't going well.

"But it's good to actually think back to what happened Saturday and how happy everybody was just to come see you play and the feeling it was just to know that there's people that love you no matter what you do in life, how bad, how good, every time they see you there's always a smiling face."

To get Robert and his smiling face to the game, Sutton relied on Parker's basketball teammates Rob King and James Booker.

Brant Welch, the coordinator of media information at Centre, e-mailed King to seek his assistance. King, whose family lives in California, signed on to drive to Franklin and pick up Robert.

"I can understand what it's like to not have your parents watching and stuff, so I was glad to help him out," King said. "The whole ride up here, his dad was talking about Solomon and how excited he'd be and how he had no idea he was coming. It was really special."

Booker tagged along, keeping King awake for the drive which began at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. He said the trip back to Danville was much more lively.

"His father was real upbeat when we picked him up and I knew this was going to be a special day for him and Solomon," Booker said.

Solomon said seeing his father sitting behind the end zone again, this time in a golf cart wearing a black T-shirt that said "Think Big," was all he needed.

"I could see the smile on his face. When we were on defense, it was like he was out there too. I was just ecstatic to even see him be out here on the golf cart before we went in and everyone gave him high fives. It was cool. I know he loved it," Solomon said.

Robert's appearance was announced over the public address system, and the crowd gave an ovation. Robert said he would have risen to acknowledge them, but "these legs wouldn't allow me to do it."

But he knew his son knew he was there, and that was all he needed. He said finally seeing Solomon play was more than enough.

"He seems more mature," Robert said. "He seems more at ease, more in control of the surroundings. He's really at ease out on the football field and just a part of his surroundings. He's just a terrific kid."

After Centre's 51-41 victory, Sutton had reserved the lobby on the floor of Solomon's dormitory for a party.

Black and white photos of Solomon hung from ribbons in the hallway. An ice sculpture in the shape of his jersey number, 6, was near the window and a cake in the shape of a jersey was across the room. Pictures from every phase of Solomon's life hung on the walls, along with report cards from his elementary school years.

But the room was filled with something more important: love. When Solomon walked in to see family members he didn't expect to see, he said it was a feeling he wasn't expecting.

" I just walked back over there and everyone was waiting for me," Solomon said. "I'm not one to cry, but it was a very emotional time. Words really can't describe the way that it all hit me. You know that there's people that love and support you, no matter what you do, but to actually see it is amazing."

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