The St. James Sharks have plenty of reasons to be motivated this football season.
They have moved up to Class 5A and are looking to make their mark at the state’s highest level of football, are on their third head coach in three years, and their community was devastated by the flooding following Hurricane Florence.
On Sept. 22, their motivations grew exponentially, as one of their teammates, brothers and friends, Pierson Thames, was in a horrific car crash and is still recovering from serious injuries.
The senior kicker was the passenger of a vehicle that was T-boned by a driver who reportedly ran a red light. Thames had severe internal injuries, including collapsed lungs, a ruptured spleen, a tear in his colon, broken ribs and a broken pelvis.
He was rushed into surgery from the scene, where he was placed in a medically-induced coma to aid in his recovery. From there, he was transferred to Duke University Hospital, where his recovery has been documented on Facebook by his mother, Katie Thames.
“We have seen God move in amazing ways,” she wrote on Monday during the first game back for St. James since Thames’ accident. “We have seen so many acts of kindness in the last several weeks watching strangers help strangers bag sand, move furniture, give generously, and help others recover their homes and belongings before and after the storm and flooding.
“Tonight we were left speechless as our community lifted Pierson up. I know I keep telling you that the love and support from everyone has been overwhelming. But this truly left us sobbing tonight.”
At Monday’s game against West Florence, St. James painted the 25-yard line in Thames’ honor and team captains carried his jersey out for the coin toss. Following the Sharks’ game, head coach Tommy Norwood spoke to both teams and led a prayer for Thames’ healing and the St. James community.
“Along with what we had on the field and with his jersey on Monday, our team has sent a signed football, Pierson’s helmet and a couple of his jerseys up to put in his (hospital) room,” Norwood said. “Our players have naturally had a lot of questions on how he’s doing and everything. We’ve been honest with them with what we know. It’s tough.”
As a veteran coach of more than 30 years, Norwood has dealt with tough situations and has always tried to keep his team in the right frame of mind once they are on the field.
“I’ve told all of my teams over the years that they need to give everything they’ve got when they’re on the field, because you never know when you’ll step back between the lines,” he said. “We’ve reiterated that over the past couple of weeks. This world, you’ve got no control over it. So, we want to control what we can, which is our effort and attitude. We can all take a page from Pierson – he was very, very quiet but he went about his business and worked hard.”
Since moving to Duke, Thames has made improvements in breathing on his own with oxygen support and his traumatic brain injury is beginning to heal, according to his mother’s posts. His next step will be to move to a rehabilitation center, where he will continue to work his way back from the injuries sustained from the accident and many surgeries.
A GoFundMe page set up to assist the Thames family has more than doubled its $7,500 goal and can be found here or by searching “Support for Thames Family.”