“They all need to be loved”: Nettles given standing ovation
Sportsmanship is defined as an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors. That word can also define Demetria Nettles—a name that some may not recognize, but a face and voice that would be if one has ever been to a W.S. Neal Eagle football or basketball game.
Nettles—the wife of Herman C. Nettles, Jr. and the mom of Josiah and Jedidiah Nettles— can be seen during the games in the stands or on the sidelines of the basketball court cheering chants, waving and clapping her hands. But when the games are over, her job is not done. Nettles can be seen pulling a trashcan behind her in the bleachers picking up trash. But it does not stop there as she then helps take down the chairs the teams sit in on the bench then cleans up the concession stand following the evening’s games.
While Nettles enjoys cheering for athletes on the field of play—W.S. Neal athletes and even opponent’s of the Eagles—it was a standing ovation cheer that she recently received from opposing fans at a W.S. Neal basketball game last week that was the best cheer of all.
Earlier in the basketball season for the Eagles, back in December, the Eagle basketball teams traveled over 90 miles one-way to Geneva High School.
It was there that Geneva fan Stephanie McDuffie witnessed the acts of Nettles first-hand.
“On December 18, the W.S. Neal basketball team traveled to Geneva to play us,” McDuffie said. “I was sick that night and didn’t really feel like going, but something inside of me kept saying that I needed to be there. What waited for me at that gym was so much more than a basketball game. It was a blessing and an inspiration to all who were in attendance.”
McDuffie said as the game began, due to the long trip to Geneva, there were not a lot of W.S. Neal fans and no cheerleaders but there was this one “super fan who was like the energizer bunny…a cheering beast.”
“I was amazed of her energy,” McDuffie said. “Then from across the court, I saw she had a special angel with her that I later found out was her son (Jedidiah). You could see the love and gentleness from all the way across that court and I was drawn to it.”
McDuffie said as the game went on, a W.S. Neal player put a Geneva player on the foul line.
That is when McDuffie began to realize why she felt she had to attend the game even though she was not feeling her best.
“To my amazement this sweet lady cheered for our player also,” she said. “I have to say that I felt a little guilt stricken because I don’t always do that. She cheered the entire four quarters only taking a break at times to tend to her son. I almost expected her to do a cartwheel or two at halftime. When the game was over she didn’t just collect her things and leave like most ordinary fans do, instead she cleaned up all the trash from the entire visitor side bleachers— even the part that was occupied by our players and fans— then folded and stacked the visiting player’s chairs neatly on the floor. It was total amazement on our part. So of course we had to learn more.”
On a return trip to East Brewton to see her Panthers play the Eagles of W.S. Neal, McDuffie and a friend had a special presentation for Nettles before the start of the varsity game.
“We would like to take just a moment before the guys get started to recognize a hero who is among us tonight,” McDuffie said in her presentation to Nettles. “Too often we only idolize sports figures, movie stars and high profile individuals as heroes. In reality, a hero is an ordinary everyday person who does extraordinary things. They are someone who is intent on making the world a better place.”
McDuffie said they got Nettles name after the first game and learned a little bit about her. “When she heard the comment that we were so blessed by her behavior and her cheering for all the kids, her reply was what inspired us to honor her,” she said. “I did a little research and found out that she does an awful lot of good for her community, so we wanted to present her with some gifts.”
Nettles was presented with a handmade card that the Geneva JV boys, varsity girls and varsity boys all signed as well as the coaches and some of the Panther fans. In addition, she was presented with another small gift. But coming back to her answer I would like for all of us to think of what a difference we would make in our schools, community and the world if we adopted Ms. Nettles’ policy. Her reply was ‘they are all children and they just need to be loved.’”
After the presentation, both W.S. Neal and Geneva fans stood up and gave Nettles a standing ovation.
“It was such an honor for me to be able to do this for her,” McDuffie said. “I guess it was a case of pay it forward on my part. It laid so heavy on my heart after witnessing her actions at the game.”
Nettles said McDuffie’s presentation surprised her.
“I don’t like to be out in front,” she said. “I like to do things behind the scene, but it was honoring. It caught me off guard but it was very humbling as well. Doing things like that is just part of my spirit. I have been doing it before the boys were born when my husband was playing ball over 30 years ago. I just always cheered on the side. I was the bookkeeper when my husband played ball and I was hollering from the table. We both went to Southern Normal High School. It is just who I am.”
Nettles said she just feels that kids need to be supported.
“Even if they are out there losing the game, they need to be supported,” she said. “In life things may happen and you may feel like you are losing, but you still need to be supported. They all need to be loved. Even though the basketball children, girls and boys alike, are not winning a lot of games, they can still enjoy the experience of their high school years. They can carry it on in their life when they leave school and go into the world. They should never quit and never give up on their selves no matter how they look.”
Nettles’ oldest son Josiah is a senior on the varsity Eagles basketball team and said it meant a lot to him when Geneva honored his mother.
“You don’t see that to much,” he said. “She usually gets picked at, but Geneva saw how she was kind-hearted towards both teams. I thought that was pretty freaking awesome. It makes me feel a lot better knowing my mom is out there showing me and my team much support. When I was young it really embarrassed me. Until about this year I never really liked it, but I noticed how blessed I am to have a mother to support me so much in every single thing I do. She really cares about the team and she treats everybody as if they were her child, so if their family wasn’t at the game, they wouldn’t feel left out at all. If there is anything I want to say to my mom it’s that I love her and I thank her for being such a blessing upon my life. As it might seem like I can’t stand her at all sometimes, I love her with everything I have.”
W.S. Neal athletic director and head football coach Doug Hoehn witnessed the presentation from Geneva to Nettles and said it was something he had never seen before of an opposing team recognizing an opposing fan.
“She is always a positive person, whether we win or lose,” he said. “She has been such an influence on the community and W.S. Neal athletics. She is the best fan I have seen for a school at all the school’s I have coached at. She is a great lady and is very active in all our booster clubs.”
Kason Whitten serves as the W.S. Neal girls and boys head basketball coach. Whitten said Nettles is definitely the cornerstone of his program and the Eagle community.
“No matter what sport, she is by far the No. 1 fan,” he said. “Her consistent cheering and positive attitude is contagious. I have never seen a more devoted, loyal, and consistent fan in any sport like this in my lifetime. The ceremony that Geneva High School conducted for her was outstanding. The class, appreciation, and thankfulness that those (Geneva) fans, teams, parents, and students showed was high class. Rarely do we get to experience the appreciation for individuals privately, let alone publicly like that. I felt honored to be associated with that moment and am glad that many others appreciate Mrs. Nettles and all she brings to athletics here at this school.”
Additionally, Whitten said that Nettles “has the unique ability to leave everything she comes in contact with better than when she arrived”—and that is a character trait he said that we can all learn from and aspire to emulate.
“I believe that she is a true leader in this Eagle community and I am honored to have come to know her,” he said. “I feel privileged to have her associated with this Eagle basketball program.”