When the Greenbrier Wolfpack sealed the deal on the school's fourth state baseball title in May, the players formed a dog pile, were mobbed by fans and immediately passed around a cell phone.
Passed around a cell phone? Wait, that really doesn't fit.
Actually, it was the only thing that would fit. On the other end of that cell phone was 71-year-old Ed Amerson, Greenbrier's No. 1 fan.
He couldn't be at the final series because of a church trip to Branson, Mo., that was planned long before anyone knew Greenbrier would be at home with a state crown on the line. Though he was in Missouri, Amerson's heart was definitely with his team. He was on the phone throughout the game, getting updates from Greenbrier coach Garrett Black's father-in-law, Darrell Postell.
Amerson almost was with the team. Postell printed cardboard cutouts of Amerson's face for fans to hold up at the game. Why was it so important to make sure Amerson was a part of Greenbrier's big day?
Does Amerson have a grandchild on the team? Does one of his children coach at Greenbrier? The answer to both questions is no.
A long history
To really understand why Amerson has become such a big part of Greenbrier athletics, we have to go back about 40 years.
In the mid-1960s, Amerson moved from Richmond County to Columbia County. He was a fixture at most Little League sports, and, as a Little League baseball coach, was the first in Martinez to have black players on his team.
He would send his practice and game schedule to Gibbs Elementary, which at the time was all black. The principal would make sure the players would get onto a bus that would drop them off at practice. After practice, Amerson would drive them all home.
In the mid-'70s, Amerson was instrumental in the early success of the new Columbia County Recreation Department. In addition to coaching several sports, he was also on the department's first Board of Advisers.
About that time, Amerson met a new coach in the county named Terry Holder. He immediately became a supporter of Holder and his teams. Amerson would borrow vans from his co-workers at International Paper to help take players to summer league tournaments all around the South.
As Holder's Evans program grew in stature, Amerson was there. He was around to watch as his friend captured five state titles in eight years. When Holder and several other prominent Evans coaches made the move to Greenbrier in 1996, Amerson went with them. Once again, he was there to witness Holder leading his troops to state crowns.
After titles in 1997, '98 and '99, Holder decided to retire, and his assistant, Ed Williams, was the obvious choice to replace his mentor. Amerson had seen Williams come through the county as a player and assistant coach, and now he would be the head coach of Amerson's beloved Wolfpack.
Help in tough times
By 1999, Amerson was already a fixture at most every Greenbrier athletic event, but that year something happened that would change his relationship with Greenbrier forever.
Amerson's wife lost a battle with cancer. After 44 years of marriage, he suddenly was alone. He had retired in 1997, so he had more spare time than he knew what to do with. It was around this time when Amerson became Mr. Greenbrier.
He not only went to just about every game but he also would stop by practices once in a while. Every school needs supporters like Amerson, but he will be the first to admit that he needed Greenbrier as much as they needed him.
"Those kids helped me through a tough time in my life," he said.
During the past seven years, Amerson has been instrumental in Greenbrier's athletic success.
Though he supports all the teams, everyone knows he has a special affection for baseball and softball. So you can understand why he was heartbroken that he could not be in Columbus to root on the softball team in the state finals in 2004. However, he did give the players a special gift on the night they won the crown.
When the team rolled into the parking lot that evening, there was Mr. Amerson to greet them.
"All the girls were so excited to see him. They jumped off the bus and all hugged him. It really meant a lot to them that he was there waiting on us," Black said.
Black knows first-hand of Amerson's incredible generosity.
"Every time we have a team function, he buys the hamburger meat, hot dogs or ribs. He is always there to help out," Black said.
'Like a family'
To Williams, those cookouts are much more than meals.
"When we have cookouts, everyone is invited. He understands family, and how important it is to share things like that," Williams said. "Those cookouts have brought our teams much closer. We are really like a family."
That is why, after Black's softball team won their title in 2004, they made sure to fit Amerson for a state championship ring.
"Sometimes he will call you over at the end of a practice and shake your hand and slip you money. He'll just say, 'Take the girl's out to eat.' He loves these kids like they are his own," Black said.
Amerson's contributions to Greenbrier are far beyond that of just a financial supporter. So when baseball coach Williams found out Amerson would not be able to be in the stands for The Pack's championship series last spring, he decided to do something he has never done: He asked a fan to address his team after practice.
"It was the day before his trip, and I just went up to him near the end of practice and asked him to say a few words to the kids," Williams said.
The coach had no idea the result would be one of the most emotional and inspirational speeches he or his players would ever witness.
"There was not a dry eye in the house," Black said. "He just told the kids how much he loved them and that they had an incredibly special opportunity before them. He told them they needed to seize this opportunity because it is something they would cherish their entire lives."
"I even broke down that day," Amerson said.
The emotional speech certainly played a roll in the Pack's dominant performance en route to a two-game state championship series sweep.
I hope you know now why a group of teenagers made it a point, during one of the most thrilling moments in their lives, to take the time to pass around a cell phone so a very special man could share their accomplishment.
"He was around helping kids when I was playing Little League, and he is still helping them 35 years later," Williams said.
So next time you are at a Greenbrier game, introduce yourself to Ed Amerson. Your life will be richer for it.
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