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COLUMN: Carrying the ‘Big D’ spirit in us all

This past Saturday morning as we sat in the back of the auditorium preparing to honor our friend Big D, two tall young men walked in and sat down a couple of rows in front of me. Recognizing them, I joined them on the row, giving and getting hugs the way we always do. We, along with several hundred others, had come to the Oaks Fellowship church in Red Oak to celebrate the life of our former player and teammate Darren Eubanks. To us, he was always just Big D.

The two young men who came to honor Big D were two of our talented Red Oak players from near the end of the 2010 decade. Trevor Conner was one, and he had texted me a couple of weeks ago to let me know about Big D. With him was Big Earl Graves, the post man on our region semi-finalist team during that era. Both young men hover right at 6’7”, as does Luke Eubank, who, on this day, was walking down the aisle with Big D’s large extended family. Luke had the heaviest heart, for Big D was his uncle, even though the two were the same age.

Most of you who read our columns will not know Big D nor the stories — the valuable morals, really — hidden within his life: Huge in Big D’s life was his work as a professional vocalist and musician. What a dream come true it must’ve been when he recently made it on American Idol with his former Red Oak High School friend in a group called D and Chi. Appropriately, “Chi” — Chima Ijeh — performed brilliantly on stage for his partner and friend that morning with their band.

Darren Eubank’s amazing life, cut short by that familiar culprit we all know, was amazing from the very beginning. The Lord had a plan for our friend from the start, of that we can be sure. Significant in his life is that he was a black gentlemen raised by a white family.

The Eubank family took him in as a foster child and kept him until agencies sought to place him with a new family, a family — as Big D’s doting wife, Brecia, said at the ceremony — that matched his ethnicity. While he was scheduled to leave the Eubank family and go to a new home, the transfer never transpired. The Eubank family sought to keep Big D and raise him, and they did. They raised one of the most humble, easy-spoken, cheerful young men I ever knew.

That storylines in this young man’s twenty-nine years would rival the plot of a Steinbeck or Mark Twain novel. For me, it was powerful sitting in that auditorium, looking out over the hundreds who had come to honor a young hero of our age, and it was special sitting beside two of my ballplayers who fought side by side with us themselves in their key growing-up years. It was special, in particular, noting that the greatest feeling in the air came not from what we could see but what we could not see. In that vast auditorium – stretching across four sections like a curtain – you could see no race, no color, no cultural differences. None of that was to be found. As the great apostle says, we are all one in that One, Christ Jesus.

Amen, and amen.

Trev and Big Earl sitting beside me that day, even, would fit into different groups in the world’s society — but when you see Big Earl Graves and the now-bearded Trevor Conner, you don’t see skin tone any more than we did with Big D. I see Big Earl taking his first lob-dunk from Big D as a lanky sophomore (a moment I had forgotten until Big Earl and Trev reminded me as we walked out of the church together), and I see Trev nailing a late-game jumper from the short corner and smiling over at the bench as he ran back down the floor.

For all those years, when any one of them dived on the floor for a loose ball in practice, they got the same spirited congratulations and the same “get a sip of water” as the other. Once, years ago, somebody noted that my team heavily favored a particular shade of skin, and I said, “Really? I never noticed” — and that was true. I smile at that today as I remember that that if anyone represents that great phenomenon it is Big D.

When you see Big D, all you see is a brother, a nephew, a son, a ballplayer, a leader, a man who sung for the Lord most of his young life, a young man who would dive on the floor for that loose ball (a story for you there another day), and a blessed, honored child of the Lord created for a special purpose.

Nothing more, nothing less.