Published 1:40 pm Monday, March 8, 2010

It has been a long, demanding six-month journey for Tom andFrances Cole and their family. The road has been filled with tears,potholes and strange curves but their strong faith and devotedfriends have provided them with plenty of hope and encouragementalong the way.

For their daughter, Callie Cole, the fateful date of Sept. 10,2009, forever changed their lives. Cole had just pitched hergreatest softball game for the Brookhaven Academy Lady Cougars.During her drive home that night, Cole’s vehicle left the road andcrashed into some road maintenance equipment. Traveling alongHighway 583, she was only five miles from home.

Cole suffered severe head trauma and slipped into a coma. Aftera 7-week stay at the University Medical Center in Jackson, she wastransported to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., where shereceived the best treatment and therapy available for her type ofinjury.

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The outpouring of love and community support from friends andcomplete strangers has been overwhelming. The Cole family isextremely grateful.

Callie Cole transferred from Enterprise to Brookhaven Academylast May. She participated in the numerous practice sessions andsummer basketball camps that have become a tradition at the school.She quickly made new friends.

Cole’s jersey number is 12. Her name and number were written inthe scorebook for every Lady Cougar game. Her uniform is drapedover a chair on the sidelines, prior to each game.

Junior center Anna Katelyn Mangold said Cole’s jersey attractsinterest and questions from other teams. “Callie’s injury has beena ministry for our team. We would tell others about Callie whenthey asked about her jersey. We would ask them to pray forher.”

Mrs. Cole said she appreciated the support provided by the LadyCougars. “They have been very supportive of Callie. It’s been goodto see how the team has helped. Sometimes we go through life withour eyes closed. Our faith is real.

“I’m ready to see God’s whole plan,” she continued. “We want tosee Callie wake up and be like she always was. We want to hear herlaugh again.”

Sophomore teammate Laura Beth Wright became close friends withCole. She visits her almost daily.

“We told Laura Beth she was playing for two girls,” saidBrookhaven Academy assistant coach Lindy Gray, recalling anearly-season conversation. Wright helped lead the Lady Cougars tothe District 4-AA and South State championships, plus a runners-upfinish in the MAIS State Tournament and a spot in the OverallTournament’s Final Four.

Wright said Cole’s injury drew the squad closer together. “Itmakes our team closer. I get to see her almost every day. She seemsto be improving.”

During the basketball season, Cole was a part of every game.Coach Barry Gray said, “When we break the huddle, we always said,‘Defense.’ “Now we say ‘C-C’ when we break the huddle.”

Gray said Wright and Cole are close friends. “Callie seems torespond really well to Laura Beth. She was really good with her inthe rehab.”

Gray said Cole is an exceptional person. “Her smile justpermeated through every practice. We miss getting to talk to herevery day. She’s a very unselfish person.”

Gray said Cole had a strong work ethic and was going to be acontributor to the team. “Callie had worked her way up to about theseventh person. She was learning the system and her confidence hadreally started to rise.”

Team Provides Support

Mrs. Cole said the spiritual support provided by the LadyCougars has made a positive impact. “Certainly, they’re prayers arewhat really gets us through. The only reason Callie had gone to BAwas that she wanted to take her basketball to another level.”

Cole had taken private lessons to improve her basketballskills.

The Coles also have an 18-year-old daughter and a 14-year-oldson. Jackson is an eighth grader at Enterprise. Ann Marie Colegraduated from Enterprise in 2009.

Enterprise and the community as a whole have been verysupportive. Hannah Russell, a junior at Enterprise, was electedstate secretary at the Beta Club convention. She used Callie Coleas her platform.

Mrs. Cole said Sabrina Smith of Wesson wrote a poem about Callieand it won second place in the state convention.

Enterprise student Sarah Burke comes every day at 12:30 andreads to Callie.

“I can’t thank everybody enough for all their help,” said Mrs.Cole.

A chain-link fence fronts the Brookhaven Academy campus thatfaces I-55. A sign, made of colorful plastic drinking cups fillsholes in the fence and spells out “PRAY FOR CALLIE” so motoristssee the message from the interstate.

Francis Cole said many communities across Mississippi haveidentified with her daughter, sending cards of encouragement. Shesaid some schools sent autographed T-shirts.

“My mother-in-law, Willie Cole Ward, got off the road near YazooCity and there was a sign reading ‘Pray For Callie.'”

During Callie’s therapy at the Atlanta hospital, the AtlantaFalcons signed some items and players came to see her. MinnesotaVikings quarterback Brett Favre and his wife, Deanna, sent aT-shirt and they wrote some scripture on it.

Mississippi State’s basketball and softball teams sentautographed pictures.

“The Lord just opened my eyes a little more,” said Mrs. Cole.”I’m a registered nurse and I see a lot of things. People who areout there, really care.”

Cole remains in a semi-conscious state. “Your body has periodsof rest and periods when you are awake,” said Mrs. Cole. “Whenshe’s asleep, her eyes are closed.

“It’s a plus when her eyes are working together. She can see inall four quadrants. She can see above and below.

“She turns her head to voices and she responds with eyeblinks.”

BA softball coach Ricky Allen recalled Cole’s exceptionalperformance as a pitcher in softball. “Callie pitched very wellthat night. I had been without some pitching. She was throwing realwell.”

A promising right-hander, Cole had pitched a 2-hitter in BA’s14-1 fastpitch victory over Natchez Trinity Episcopal. She struckout six batters and walked two.

“Callie was a pretty good athlete,” said Allen. “She was realcoachable and she listened to everything.”

Spiritual Endeavors

Besides athletics, Cole lived her spiritual life withenthusiasm. She dreamt of becoming a missionary.

Callie’s is a website established to promote thegospel of Jesus Christ. Her mother said Callie wanted to become amissionary on the international field.

Currently, the website is raising funds for students who willparticipate in international mission trips this summer. Callie hadhoped to travel with her mother and others on a mission trip toHonduras in 2010.

Growin’ Green Landscape in Bogue Chitto and Peeples Drug Storein Bude are two locations where mission T-shirts can be ordered.Proceeds provide scholarships for students on mission.

Jamie Gatlin created the missions organization in Cole’shonor.

Cole is in a wheelchair. Her immune system is weak so sheremains at home, with the exception of visits to the doctor. Moredetails on her life can be viewed on the website,