Twice Devastated, Twice Restored
Two college baseball teammates with spinal cord injuries inspire players and coaches.
Written By Bill Sanders
Photography By Louie Favorite
For the second time in less than 18 months, a Georgia baseball player had sustained a spinal cord injury (SCI) – this time a C-5 to -6 complete SCI.
So many questions emerged.
How would Chance, who was injured at the end of fall ball, deal with the reality that he’d never play in a regular spring season baseball game for Georgia? How would JT learn to accept that he might never walk again or live totally independent?
And how would a team of 40 or so young men, most of whom had never known anyone who uses a wheelchair, rally to show their injured friends a mature and committed love that would speak volumes to Chance and JT and forever change every one of them?
It could be a lot to ask of college-age kids. But as it’s playing out, they all feel that showing their commitment to Chance and JT is the least they can do.
There’s a new normal at the Georgia baseball complex, and it looks like this: Chance, in his manual wheelchair, is a constant at home games, some road trips and some practices. JT, sometimes in a powered wheelchair, sometimes in a manual one, is around when his busy schedule of classes and daily rehabilitation allows. But he’s never out of mind. Never. And a team that no longer feels uncomfortable around people in wheelchairs plays every single play like it could be their last one – honoring the all-out style of play of Chance and JT.
“Everything we do this year is for those two guys,” says catcher Brett DeLoach, a roommate of Chance’s. “They were two of our hardest-playing guys. Now we’re learning how strong they are and how they look at the bright side of things. Because of those two, we’re all stronger individuals. We’ve grown in character and integrity, and certainly as a team, we’ve bonded together that much more.”
Perno cannot forget the image of JT lying on the ground, motionless. Nor will he ever forget the phone call that started this emotional roller coaster.
“It was Game One of the World Series between the Yankees and the Phillies,” Perno recalls. “I’m a big Yankees fan, and Chance is a big Phillies fan. When I got a call from Chance’s phone, I figured he was just going to be ragging me about the game.”
But it wasn’t Chance calling. It was an Athens-Clarke County police officer, using Chance’s phone.