Very sad news. John Mark Stallings, son of Coach Gene and Ruth Ann Stallings died yesterday. He was 46. Anyone familiar with Alabama football knows John Mark - and loves him:
"There weren't any lives he (John Mark) touched that weren't made better by his influence," said Linda Knowles, Stallings' secretary at Alabama. "He loved life, and he loved Alabama football."
"He had a way of lighting up a room," said Alabama Director of Events Larry White, the school's sports information director during the Stallings years at Alabama.
John Mark was born with Down syndrome and the Stallings were advised to institutionalize him. They refused:
John Mark Stallings was born June 11, 1962, at Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa. When a doctor told the family his son was Mongoloid - the term used for Down syndrome at that time - Gene Stallings fainted on the spot.
"When I woke up, the nurses were standing over me and putting smelling salts in front of me," Stallings said in a 1991 interview. "I guess it was the shock. We cried a bushel of tears."
Those tears turned into a lifetime of smiles.
You just couldn't look at John Mark without smiling. He was just so very special.
John Mark will always be a part of Alabama football, the school and team he loved. The athletic training facility is named in his honor. I've watched the replay of Alabama's 1992 National Championship game dozens (if not more) times. I was lucky to be at the game but there are some things you don't see when you're there. And one is the picture of Ruth Ann and John Mark cheering, all smiles. It always brings tears to my eyes when I see it. I'll watch it again but I know the tears that were once for joy will be tears of sadness.
Gene Stallings' book, Another Season: A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son tells the story of this exceptional family.
Rest in Peace, John Mark. You made the world a better place.
Kevin Scarbinsky has a beautiful tribute to John Mark here.