In her honor

By Carolina Hidalgo, Naples Daily News

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Her smile — broad and genuine, with its signature gap and coat of bright red lipstick — is the first thing Alvin Barnes Jr. pictures when imagining his mom.

He remembers late afternoons spent playing catch with her outside their Fort Myers home. His mom, nicknamed Chris, was the one who signed him up for football at age 5, rushed him to a hospital for nine stitches at age 6 and let him right back on the field when his love for the sport didn’t waver.

A few months before Alvin’s high school graduation, Chris was diagnosed with cancer. Her body responded well to treatments. She watched her youngest go off to college on a partial football scholarship.

A year later, he quit school — halfway through fall semester at Warner University in Lake Wales, which had recruited him for its first-ever football season — and moved back home. His mom told him to stay in school to chase his dreams and get his degree. But he couldn’t ignore the tumor on her brain.

“There comes a time for us to grow up and start helping our parents instead of always depending on them,” he said. “And I guess that was my time to kinda grow up.”

Alvin drove his mom to chemotherapy and radiation appointments. He remembers her smiling, even through the pain. She pushed him to consider Ave Maria University’s football program. She wanted to watch him play college ball and Ave Maria was close to home.

As his mom’s health deteriorated, Alvin visited the campus and made up his mind.

“The team is explosive,” he said. “And the coaches took time with me.”

Chris died the day before Thanksgiving. Two weeks later, Alvin got her name and favorite psalm tattooed on his arm. He tacked her memorial service pamphlet to his bedroom wall, next to an army of football trophies. Three months later, he signed with Ave Maria.

Just weeks before football camp, he learned he must pay a full semester’s tuition to Warner University before he can start at his new school. Ave Maria needs his old transcripts to enroll him but Warner will not send them until he pays.

On a recent afternoon, as the Ave Maria Gyrenes players sweated through their first day of camp, Alvin sat at his kitchen table with his dad, older sister, Tunisia, and girlfriend of three years, Ebony Townsend, sharing his Gofundme fundraising page on social media. If he raises $9,500 by the first week of school, he can enroll in classes, secure financial aid and take his spot on the team.

In nine weeks, Ebony will give birth to the couple’s first son. For Alvin, it’s scary and exciting and nerve-wracking, but it’s motivation to return to school, get back on the field and honor his mother’s wishes.

“It made me realize I was playing football for the wrong reasons,” he said. “I didn’t have a why; now I have a why.”