Blount Press Row

The Miracle In Soccer Boots

Spicer return to Governor roster heartfelt reminder of what really matters

William Blount junior Hunter Spicer is back with the Governor soccer team less than a year after an accident that nearly took his life. Photos by Hobe Brunson

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

Constance Spicer is a parent. She worries.

Spicer jogs back to the Governor sideline after fetching refreshments at a recent match.

When her son, Hunter, hadn’t called to let her know he’d reached campus, she phoned him.

Everything was OK. Hunter and neighbors Paige and Jacob Noel were running a little behind, but they’d be there shortly. They wouldn’t be late.

It was April 20, 2012, shortly before 8 a.m.

“The last thing I remember was hanging up with mom, two minutes before the wreck,” Hunter, a William Blount High School junior, said. “I said, ‘I love you,’ and hung up.”

Minutes later, the car Paige was driving caught the road’s low, right-hand shoulder and fishtailed left, then right. As it skidded up the right-hand shoulder, a roadside mailbox came through the passenger window. Hunter was in the front seat, the mailbox striking him flush.

Hunter’s face, from chin to crown, had been completely erased.

Tim Spicer, Hunter’s father, had just left nearby Middlesettlements Elementary, where Constance works and their youngest child attends school. Nancy Noel, Paige and Jacob’s mom, called and said the kids had been in an accident and Hunter was hurt. Tim quickly got word to Constance.

As both raced to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, Constance got word of just how bad Hunter might be.

“They’d called Lifestar in and then called them off because they expected him to be DOA,” she said.

Just how serious Hunter’s injuries were was brought to light when the Spicers met with the plastic surgeon.

“After we finished talking, he said, ‘Have you got any pictures on your cell phone so I’ll know what he looks like,’” Tim said.

“It was the absolute low point of my life,” he added. “You’ve been through death in the family, but, when it’s your own child risking death …

“The first couple of weeks, it’s like we were in survival mode. Without God, faith, friends and family, there would have been no way we could have made it through that. We had a peace it would be OK. We had to fall back on our faith and pray.”

Hunter would be in surgery for the next 10 hours, the first four with a neurosurgeon. It would take nine titanium plates, 46 surgical staples and 26 stitches to reconstruct his face. No decision had been reached about who was going to give Hunter the really bad news, Constance said.

“At the time he had that Justin Bieber haircut,” she said. “I said, ‘Someone else is going to tell him he has no hair.’”

Students and teammates from William Blount began arriving in droves by the end of the school day. The outpouring of community support and their church, Smoky View Baptist, meant everything, Constance said.

“If you don’t believe in God, I don’t know how you survive it,” she said.

As they waited for Hunter to come out of surgery, the focus turned to the other kids who’d been hurt that day, Tim said.

Jacob and Paige hadn’t suffered any physical injuries, but they’d seen things no kid should have to see, he said. Paige felt responsible. Jacob had kept Hunter’s head elevated at roadside as they waited for first responders.

“They needed the reassurance he was getting better,” Tim said.

The role Paige played in the first moments after the accident was critical, Constance said. Maintaining the presence of mind to immediately phone her mom, she got help on the way instantly.

The last thing he remembers before first responders arrived was Jacob’s voice, Hunter said. His friend’s words scared him, he said, and stirred what it took to hang on.

“Jacob said, ‘Please don’t die on me,’” Hunter said.

As a matter of course after automobile accidents, Constance said she and Tim were asked if they wanted to press charges. They wouldn’t even consider it, she said. The brief exchange really brought home, she said, how both families would have to get through it together.

“They live two houses down from us,” Constance said. “They’re like family.

“When Hunter got off the ventilator and could talk, the first thing he asked about was Paige and Jacob.”

The William Blount soccer team went ahead with a match scheduled for the afternoon of the accident, dedicating it to Hunter and sporting armbands stenciled with his “No. 3.”

“Some of the guys shaved their heads!” Hunter said. “Jack McReynolds gave me the armband he wore.”

The journey back to school and soccer would be one of baby steps. Hunter first had to learn to walk again. An extended stay at the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center followed a week at the medical center.

“We lived in the dark,” Constance said, “literally. No lights. No TV.”

Hunter’s miraculous story of survival and return picked up speed in the days after. Tests confirmed he had suffered no long-term neurological damage and could resume an honors schedule when he returned to classes.

“I was scared to death of the answer,” Tim said.

When doctors finally gave Constance and Tim permission to take Hunter home, the Governors, in the loop the whole time, were ready.

When the Spicers reached the medical center on Alcoa Highway, handmade signs began appearing along the roadside, the Governors wishing Hunter a speedy recovery. A half-mile later, there was another sign, then another, then another …

It went on for miles, Constance said, all the way to the front door.

Hunter has since collected them all and keeps them in his room.

“The boys were great,” Constance said. “The whole community was great.”

The success of the plastic surgery had been the miracle at fruition, but it took a while before he was no longer Hunter, the kid who’d been in an accident.

“I want them to remember me for me, not the wreck,” Hunter said.

The thing he wanted to know most, he said, was could he play soccer again?

Yes, with conditions.

He’d have to wear a helmet, and he was prohibited from heading the ball.

“And then I did it,” Hunter said.

Watching Hunter head the ball at an indoor match with his club team was scary, Tim said, followed by a sense of relief hard to describe.

Governor teammate Jordan Dooley was at Hunter’s side instantly.

“He said, ‘Spicer, are you OK?’” Hunter said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’ Then he kept going.”

For weeks he’d needed that header, Hunter said. The Governors were understandably cautious around him when he returned to practice this spring.

“I said, ‘Hit me! Treat me like a regular player,’” Hunter said.

Later in the same match, Hunter scored his first goal in over a year.

The Governors have had an up-and-down start to 2013, but the losses just don’t mean as much anymore, Tim said.

“The wreck just put everything into prospective for us,” he said. “It’s about the team, the relationships, the families. You don’t sweat the little stuff. The little things that used to bother you don’t bother you anymore.”

Sitting with a friend at a recent match, a match the Governors lost, Constance said she was comforted by words that made the score meaningless.

“She said, ‘It’s not about winning,’” Constance said. “‘It’s about seeing that one (Hunter) on the field.’”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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