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What Ross Babington left on the field

  • Ross Babington with his grandson, Brady, in a photo taken just a week before Ross became ill.

    Ross Babington with his grandson, Brady, in a photo taken just a week before Ross became ill.
    Courtesy of Brooke Henderson

By Holly Kee
updated: 11/30/2018 3:16 PM

"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."

Marcel Proust must have been writing about my friend, Ross Babington.

Ross was many things, an athlete, a teacher, a coach, a father, a Cubs fan, a husband, a principal, a grandfather and a friend.

He had a great sense of humor. While coaching football at Sesser-Valier, he once told me (I handled the sound in the Johnston City booth) that it was "hard to play at Johnston City with you blasting 'Bad to the Bone' at 9 million decibels."

A few years later, when he returned to JCHS as the athletic director, he came up to the football booth, looked at me and said, "Crank that up! Let's hear some BTB!"

Ross had a smile that lit up the very souls of those around him. The last time I saw him just a few short weeks ago, he was very weak, but he stood in the doorway in his Cubs shirt, waving and flashing that smile my way.

For over a year, Ross has been fighting a quiet battle that ended last week on his 45th wedding anniversary.

Ross fought his battle with courage. He fought it with the strength of a warrior. He fought it with his faith. Just hours after he passed, his wife, Kathy, told me he "left nothing on the field."

I beg to differ. You see, I think he left it all on the field.

The man who loved to spend time creating woodworking projects and growing beautiful plants and flowers, left behind a legacy that has touched countless lives.

He left it with Michael, on the numerous rides home to change clothes.

He left it with Garron who he badgered into playing sports ... along with giving him a nickname, the first Garron ever had.

He left it with John, in whom he saw the potential to become not only a coach but also another positive role model.

He left it with Michael, Ricky, Jory, Felicia, James, Shane, Kelly, Kaci ... it's a list that goes on and on.

On Oct. 12, I was privileged to join Beth Roberts and Kim Grant to organize a benefit dinner and auction for Ross at Johnston City High School. Our original thought was to show him the love and support that he so freely gave to our small community throughout his life.

We were thinking we'd serve maybe 300 plates of spaghetti and have a couple of dozen auction items.

We were wrong.

The folks from Sesser-Valier High School jumped in to help. Rene Hightower offered to do T-shirts. Mike Intravaia came in to cook spaghetti. Teresa Dobroski Walter baked 500 cupcakes. Auction items poured in from all over. Terry Brooks offered his DJ services for the event. Volunteers stepped up from across southern Illinois.

We served around 800 dinners, 300 of those in the first 40 minutes. In an event planned in 12 days that lasted for three hours, we raised $15,000, money we hoped would help ease the financial burden that accompanies any extended illness.

I'm sure it did that for the Babington family, but it did so much more.

I watched as people from different towns, states, political beliefs, and religions came together as one, sharing stories and offering support to Ross's family. I watched as former football foes sat side by side, sharing "Ross stories" as they laughed and smiled. I watched as those whose lives Ross touched came together to give back just a bit of what he gave them, a piece of his heart.

Ross played every down, giving it all he had, but the goal line was just out of reach.

What he did, though, is leave a piece of his soul, a wonderful, kind, and nurturing soul, for all of us to remember and cherish.

That, my friends, is a champion.

• Holly Kee is a Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group reporter. She is a lifelong resident of Johnston City, who formerly taught at Johnston City High School, where Babington once worked.