Not every lesson on the football field involves passing or blocking.
John Copeland and Derrick Warren have a lot in common. Both men are high school teachers now. Warren works in Central Florida, and Copeland is defensive coordinator for Tuscaloosa Academy’s varsity football team. Each man also played for the Alabama Crimson Tide under football coach Gene Stallings in the early 1990’s, with Copeland playing a key role in Bama’s 1992 championship season. The two former players joined forty or so former members of the Tide to sign autographs and mingle with fans to support research into a rare ailment called Alexander’s disease. Derrick Warren’s two year daughter Brielle has the condition. Experts say even milder cases, like Brielle’s can be fatal by the age of ten. Saturday’s event was an example of Copeland supporting a member of Warren’s family. However, both men credit Coach Stallings’ son Johnny with teaching them about children with special needs. Johnny had Downs’ syndrome, and both Copeland and Warren remember the impact knowing Johnny had on them as young men.
“You could be out on the playing field in one hundred degree heat,” recalls Copeland. “You could be hot, sweaty, complaining. Then, you look over the sidelines and there’s Johnny with a big smile on his face. And, it made it all feel good to you, you know?”
Derrick Warren concurs…
“He was just out there, and involved in everything going on. And, that sits in the back of my mind,” says Warren. “Because, Coach Stallings was always about, if you have an opportunity to help somebody, and you can help them…help them.”
Stallings, Copeland, Warren, and over forty other former members of the Crimson Tide did just that at the Lightning Strikes Bowling Alley in Trussville. Donations from fans who came to see the players will go toward Brielle’s medical treatment, which includes trips to Baltimore to see one of the few specialists the Warren’s could find with expertise on Alexander’s disease. The dollars will also go to support research for a cure.