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STOVALL: The power of community strikes again in Newton County sports
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You keep on doing it, Newton County.

Sports, family, support, love for one another.


All of these things keep on showing up as common themes in the Covington and Newton County sports community. I’m pretty sure that it has always been here. I’m sure it didn’t start when I showed up. But I can’t remember a place where I’ve covered sports that has shown me so many examples of this so frequently and so soon into my tenure as a sports editor/sports writer.

Just several weeks ago, I was shaking my head at the strength of a teenage soccer player who showed such strength as he persevered in the game he loved despite losing the father that taught him the game.

I saw a picture of your strength then, Newton County. I saw you rally around the Beam family in support and give them love that seems a little more uncommon in the volatile and sometimes downright hateful climate that seems to surround us now.

But then, last Wednesday, I saw it again in living color – black and green, to be exact.

When I first heard of Mike Hipps, I was told that he was about as solid a fixture in this area’s baseball community as Sean Beam was in the soccer community. But that piece of hearsay turned into verifiable fact when I witnessed how Eastside High’s baseball community, along with others from all across the area, came together to pay homage to a man who was swiftly taken away from us.

Mike Hipps was not only a baseball lover. He loved the kids he coached and impacted – not least of those, his son Michael Hipps who is a senior pitcher for the Eagles.

When the elder Hipps fell ill toward the end of the last Woodward Academy game two Fridays ago, eventually passing away during the weekend, the swift way the Eastside baseball community flew into action let me know that we were dealing with someone special to the team and to the community as a whole.

Facebook posts from the Eastside baseball booster club calling for a rallying of support elicited responses from every baseball program in Newton County. I saw people from all three high schools and from club programs, former players, coaches and kids who’d grown up a bit, but still remembered how Mike Hipps impacted their lives all posting their condolences, their memories and their appreciation for the kind of man he was.

Soon that kindness movement expanded to envelope young Michael. The hashtag #One4Seven was born as a way to show a community’s solidarity in support behind Michael Hipps – tall, thin senior with a strong arm and even stronger heart who wears No. 7.

Michael took the mound during Eastside’s Wednesday night game against Henry County, but not before the entire team stood out in the playing field, holding black and green balloons and releasing them to the sky in a show of love to Mike Hipps.

Spurring the team’s support on was as large a crowd as I’ve ever seen for high school baseball on a Wednesday night. More than 90 percent of them wearing green shirts with #One4Seven written across the front in yellow.

Eastside booster club president Ryan Ralston said he ordered 193 shirts. All of them were sold out, and more people could be heard through the night asking for more. It was absolutely one of the most touching things I’d ever seen.

I watched as people took turns hugging Diane Hipps, Mike’s wife and Michael’s mother. After the game, Michael received embraces from teammates and his coach, Bruce Evans who shared with me exactly why he felt extremely equipped to provide consolation to his senior pitcher during the most difficult moment in his life.

“I have experienced loss like that too, so I know what real grief feels like,” Evans said. He opened up about how he mourned and pushed through the sadness of losing his 15 year old son to a dirt bike accident several years ago.

“It’s really tough when you have to go through things like that,” Evans said. “But that’s why we try to be a family to him. I know what he needs right now from us.”

You could tell that the support seemed to strength young Michael. Not only did he play a whale of a game from the mound in a 17-1 run-rule win over Henry County, when he spoke about his dad afterward, he did so with a smile. He acknowledged that playing the game they both loved and doing it in front of such a huge showing of support would be exactly how Mike Hipps would’ve wanted it.

He said it was good for him to be out on the mound, just days after seeing his dad fall ill.

“It’s better than just hanging around the house all the time right now,” Michael Hipps said. “Out here, I’m with my brothers. This team is my family too.”

And apparently so is the entire Newton County baseball community.

You can’t tell me sports is just a game when you keep allowing me to see how it pulls people together in the darkest moments, giving light so necessary for those affected by tragedy to see their way through.

And even though this happened to someone other than me and my own family, I can’t help but to feel blessed to see what kind of stock Newton County’s sports community is made of.

Good stock. Strong, solid, unflappably kind and genuine-hearted stock. I can definitely say I’ve never seen anything like the kind of close-knit family Newton County sports community is.

Keep it up, folks. You’re helping more people than you know. And my prayers will continue to go out to you, Hipps family. May God be your strength, along with your loving sports community.