With his hands clutching the hands of a couple teammates, and surrounded by players from Rabun County doing the same, East Hall senior Sterling Bailey bowed his head and prayed.
The crowd in attendance followed suit, bowing their heads and remaining silent as Bailey’s mellow voice echoed throughout the gym.
“The gym was quiet and everyone’s eyes were closed,” Bailey said. “You could tell reverence and God was in the place.”
That might not have been apparent minutes earlier when the Vikings and Wildcats were battling on the basketball court — two teams playing hard and doing everything in their power to get an upper hand in a subregion game.
But in an instant, things changed.
As Kymon Woods rose to shoot a 3-pointer, so too did Rabun County’s Brett Blalock, who was attempting to block the shot. On the way down Blalock bumped into Woods and landed awkwardly, breaking his leg as soon as his foot hit the gym floor. Not knowing the severity of the injury, and elated about the made 3-pointer and ensuing foul shot, the members of the Vikings and their fans cheered in excitement as their team was well on their way to a 91-54 win, their fifth in a row.
But then reality set in.
As the excitement subsided, the fans and players realized Blalock was still lying on the court, writhing in pain.
“You could tell his leg was broken,” Bailey said, “it was just dangling there.”
Concerned about an opposing player’s injury, the intimidating inside force for the Vikings decided to make his presence known in a completely different manner.
“I was just walking around and the spirit of God was telling me to go pray for him,” said Bailey, who had just checked out of the game prior to the injury. “My dad called me over and told me to go pray for him.”
A respectful and quiet guy by nature, Bailey approached Blalock’s father and asked if it was OK to pray for his son.
“It was heartfelt, and I really don’t remember the words I said.” Bailey said. “It wasn’t tough, and I knew I had to do that. Once you feel that tug of God, you have to obey because obedience is better than sacrifice.
“It was so powerful,” he added. “It was the most powerful thing I’ve ever done.”
While he may not know the exact words that came out of his mouth, whatever he said had an immediate impact on the people in attendance.
News of his actions spread across the community and Internet through a bevy of e-mails. People involved in any way with church and athletics — and sometimes neither — have heard of, and been touched by Bailey’s gesture.
It’s not everyday you see or hear about an 18-year-old kid putting others first, and when it happens on a level like this, and by an athlete of this magnitude (Bailey’s committed to play football at the University of Georgia), you can’t help but feel some emotion.
Highly touted recruits like Bailey are normally more concerned with the way they’re going to tell the world which college they’re going to chose than what other players, fans or people are going through. The majority of them are self-consumed, ego maniacs who are just as likely to end up with their names in a police report as they are on a stat sheet in college.
But Bailey’s different; just ask Blalock, who Bailey spoke to last Thursday, nearly a week after the event occurred.
“He told me he has so much respect for me and he looks up to me for what I did,” Bailey said. “I said it wasn’t me, it was all God.”
In a way it was him. Not everyone has the guts to stand in front of a room full of strangers and pray for someone they barely know. Most would just sit in the stands and watch the medical staff and coaches handle the situation. They’d remain silent, think to themselves that they hope the kid will be alright, and forget about the injury in a couple days and never wonder whether he’s OK.
“That’s who he is,” said East Hall coach Joe Dix, who stated he’d never experienced anything like that during his extensive coaching career. “Sometimes it’s hard to root for the giant, but he’s easy to root for.”
With actions like this, Bailey’s making it even easier.
Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesjzopf.