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A Crusader Remembered

As football season draws to an end, like most fans, I can say this has been one like none other. The pandemic is not solely to blame. It is because my favorite football player passed away this summer and his absence loomed large on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. That player is my brother, Mel McBride, who took to many gridirons in Toombs County from rec league to Robert Toombs Christian Academy before playing at Georgia Southern under Coach Erk Russell. Thirty-four football seasons passed since my brother’s name echoed over Crusader field until this fall when it rang out from the announcer’s booth again. It was not to cheer a touchdown or tackle; rather, it was in his memory to inspire the next generation of studentathletes.

Following Mel’s passing on June 4, RTCA Coach Jacob Lord established the Mel McBride captain which recognizes a player who shows heart as well as talent, leadership as well as teamwork, and a desire to compete as well as live a Christian life. These tenets guided Mel, who embodied all that we loved about growing up in South Georgia. Before he ever stepped foot in a weight room, Mel was strong from cutting firewood and working on the farm. His faith was equally strong, rooted in perfect attendance Sunday school, character education at RTCA beginning as a first grader, and the example set by our parents.

The award in Mel’s name deeply moves our family as we know that many in our community mourn his passing with us. Among those who loved Mel were the classmates who graduated with him from RTCA in 1987.

While I’ve heard the phrase, “Once A Crusader, Always A Crusader,” for as long as I can remember, it was the Class of ’87 who taught me its true meaning. Mel’s classmates attended his funeral services in Marietta and Toombs County where we wept, reminisced and laughed at their shared stories.

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der his tough exterior was a tender heart. It was on display the night of their graduation when they were all teenagers wearing Colombia blue caps and gowns. Among the speeches, funny antics and diplomas in the RTCA gym, Mel cried. He didn’t say much or try to explain; he didn’t have to because his classmates and family knew it was a farewell to a place he loved. The place that prepared him for future successes in college and in

business. Last month, the RTCA ’87 alumni held a class reunion and invited our parents to attend on Mel’s behalf. They presented our parents with a generous donation to the football scholarship established at Georgia Southern in Mel’s memory. The men and women who graduated with Mel continue to check in with our parents though, offer to help in any way Mel’s children and widow, send cards, and pray for our family to find peace. These actions are a testament to what Mel and his classmates meant to one another. They are living examples of the Biblical teaching found in Romans 12:10, instructing us to “Be devoted to one another in love.” As the little sister, I looked up to the boys and girls in Mel’s class. The years between us are not the age gap they used to be but, as an adult, I still admire the ’87 Crusaders for the way they lead their lives and put the Crusader motto into action.

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