In Tulsa, Oklahoma, high school football isn’t just an afterschool activity as much as it’s a way of life, and the students that play for Union High School’s Redskins are often regarded by the community as family. After all, the Redskins are the four-time consecutive defending state champions, and they’ve won their district championship the last 13-years running. That’s why, when something happens to a former player, no matter how far away, it resonates all the way back home. Such was the case for former Union defensive back Sterling Thomas, who was spending his freshman season at Lindenwood University playing cornerback for the Lions.
On Saturday, the focus was on the Lindenwood seniors, as they were being celebrated on Senior Day, but the news out of St. Charles, Missouri was instead about the health status of Thomas, who suffered a severe head and neck injury while playing against Missouri Southern. As the result of his injury, Thomas has been paralyzed, but good news has since come that immediate surgery has led to the regained use of his arms. According to a statement from Thomas’ mother, “Sterling is in serious condition after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury. He is on track with recovery – being in shape and athletic has helped him to this point.”
Additionally, his university peers and football teammates have declared their support during his recovery, as Lindenwood University’s athletics department has reported that players and coaches have been at his side at the hospital since his surgery. They will even soon sell bracelets bearing the engraving “S.T. #27 – LU Soldier” to help the Thomas family with expenses.
“We are going to be there to assist the family in every way possible,” said Coach Patrick Ross. “Sterling has a ton of strength and mental toughness. He and his family have a long road ahead of them, but they won’t be alone. The team, students, staff, and administration at Lindenwood University will be with them every step of the way.”
Thomas’ injury comes at a time when the nation’s focus is directed at head, neck and spine injuries at all levels of competitive athletics and, most notably, football. While Thomas’ parents and brother will undoubtedly hope for his full recovery, an outpouring of compassionhas also begun on the Union High School Facebook page, as current and former students, and even Thomas’ teachers have joined together to show their support.