When he decided decades ago to focus a good portion of his life helping kids through sports, Lumon May turned to his mother for help.
Mary May, known as “Momma May,” made it a devotion.
“She’s done everything imaginable,” he said. “She has been the team mom. When we didn’t have enough coaches, she coached. When I didn’t have enough people to pick kids up, she picked them up. When we needed extra money, she helped with money. She was a stay-at-home mom and her life was about children.
“Ever since I started coaching, my mom has probably made all the games.”
This is why his voice cracked and he fought back emotions at the 31st Soul Bowl event last Saturday at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
His 74-year-old mother was escorted to the midfield, “Unity Circle” -- created by supporters to symbolize togetherness – and was presented the cherished “Community Award” for her impact on the youth football showcase day.
She received the award for the Southern Youth Sports Association (SYSA) Tigers. Dennis Brown, 54, who retired from coaching last year, received the same award for the East Pensacola Magee Field Rattlers.
Brown and Lumon May have known each other since their own childhood. Brown is a 1987 Woodham High grad; May is 1988 graduate.
They have seen the event grown into what it is now. In 2012, when Blue Wahoos Stadium opened, May and Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer met and worked an agreement for the Soul Bowl to be staged annually at the bayfront stadium. Studer has been a long-time supporter of the event.
“We wouldn’t be here without Quint,” said May, a founder of SYSA and now its executive director, in addition to his job as Escambia County commissioner for District 3. “And I never imagined my mom would be recognized and Dennis on the same day, or any of this would happen, really.
“Dennis lived in Wedgewood, I lived in Brent. And we’ve known each other since then. “People like Dennis and my mother, they give so much. They are unsung heroes. They don’t get the spotlight. They do it because it is the right thing to do.
“So, for my mom, who prays daily for the next generation and Dennis, who has given back to this game all these years, to get recognized together, I am without words.”
Brown has distinction of being the former head coach for all five of the current age-division coaches for the East Pensacola Rattlers when they were kids.
“My first thought is that it’s a blessing from above just to be in the midst with these kids every day, all those years,” Brown said. “And then being able to see the Soul Bowl grow like this. Because that’s the key
“I can remember when we were just barely making it in a sense. Picking up kids to play in the game and now we are down here at Wahoos Stadium and it’s beautiful.”
Brandon Sanders and his Brandon II, who played for the 10-under SYSA Tigers, were among the many father-son connections in the recent Soul Bowl. The elder Sanders remembers playing for the SYSA Tigers in the 1997 game when it was staged at Pensacola High’s Jim Scoggins Stadium.
“It was exciting that day,” he said. “A lot of people, lot of fans. We had that big (fake toy rattlesnake) on the field stomping on it. When you are able to embark on something like that and now to reminisce, it is special.
“And to see Lumon’s mom get honored, that is great. It is exciting to see the older generation come back and enjoy the game.”
East Pensacola Rattlers coach Andrew Maxwell II helped coach his son, Andrew III, in the 8-under game. The elder Maxwell had his father, Andrew Maxwell, coach him in the youth football era.
“So there’s now three generations of Maxwells in the Soul Bowl,” Andrew II said. "I played in 1989 when the game was at the old Bill Bond Field off 12th Avenue. “That’s a lot of years ago. And to see my son feel the same kind of things about playing in the Soul Bowl that I felt back then has been special.
“I am now coaching against dads that I played against. So it is a big deal. Seeing Dennis honored was great. He’s been our stabilizer. He keeps us together and when things are not going our way, he reminds us how important this tradition is. We love having him around.”
Pensacola mayor D.C. Reeves remembers covering the Soul Bowl 15 or so years ago while working for the Pensacola News Journal.
Before he addressed the crowd at Blue Wahoos Stadium last Saturday, he reflected on the surreal element of going from reporting on the game to presiding over it as city mayor. A crowd of several thousand filled the bowl seating portion of the ballpark, complete with tailgate tents side-by-side throughout the seating area.
“Remember, when I covered the game, this stadium was not even built,” Reeves said. “But what’s so cool is that no matter what year or what iteration this is for the Soul Bowl, it continues to grow and has really become part of the fabric of the city.
It brings people together around sports and we know that sports has the power to do that. And our children have the power to do that and you put it all together and it creates an amazing day and amazing memories for these kids.”
The game’s presenting sponsor, Troy Rafferty, a partner in the Levin Papantonio Rafferty Law Firm, flew back last Friday from Las Vegas to be able to attend the Soul Bowl, which he has attended every year since first getting involved 15 years ago.
“Lumon and I were talking and he said it’s the biggest, single-day, youth football tournament in the country,” Rafferty said. “It’s inspiration to me. I love seeing the kids all excited.
"It kinda reminds you that you can get so wrapped up in your work, so wrapped up in what you’re doing and it’s good to have reminders every now and then that maybe there are other things to care about and worry about.
“You couldn’t put together a better day.”