Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Penny Starr, Senior Staff Writer
football coach Gene Stallings made history as the youngest
college coach at the helm of his alma mater, Texas A&M,
and a perfect 12-0 season during his reign at the University
of Alabama. But he says raising his son Johnny was his
“My life wouldn’t have been nearly as rich
without Johnny, no question about it,” Stallings
told CNSNews.com of his son, who was born with Down
syndrome in 1962.
Johnny outlived his doctors’ prediction that he
wouldn’t live past the age of two because of heart
problems, and when he died at 46 on Aug. 2, the accolades
“We’ve got more than 1,300 letters,”
Stallings said. “Not notes, but letters telling
us what a difference Johnny made in their lives, and
thanking us for sharing Johnny.”
In remembering his son, Stallings said that, as a father,
he has come full circle.
“The two saddest days of my life were when he
was born and when he died,” Stallings said. “When
he was born, I was devastated, and when he died, I was
even more devastated.”
That’s because, Stallings
said, he did not know then what he knows now.
“If the good Lord asked if he could give me a
perfectly normal child or Johnny, I’d pick Johnny
every time,” Stallings said. “No doubt about
He added that ignorance must account for the fact that
90 percent of women who are pre-natally diagnosed with
carrying a child with Down syndrome choose to abort
“They just don’t know what they are missing,”
said Stallings, who now works on his farm inPowderly,Texas,
and gives motivational speeches. “Johnny was 46
years old and didn’t know a bad word. He saw the
good in everyone. He loved going to church on Sundays
and Wednesdays, and he remembered everyone’s name.”
“When we got to church, there would be 20 women
lined up to give him a hug,” said Stallings.
Stallings said he understands how difficult it is for
parents to get the news that their child has a disability,
especially in 1962 when there were virtually no resources
for parents or their children.
“I passed out when they told me,” Stallings
said. “I drew back to hit the doctor, who called
him a Mongoloid – that’s what they said
back then – and I passed out.”
Stallings said doctors encouraged him and his wife,
Ruth Ann, to institutionalize their son. But they wouldn’t
hear of it. He added that even if tests were available
back then, it would not have changed their minds.
“Even if she’d had the test, we would still
have had the child,” he said.
Stallings wrote about the challenges
and joys of raising Johnny and his remarkable coaching
career in a book, “Another Season: A Coach’s
Story of Raising an Exceptional Son.”
The book weaves a moving tale of how a fiercely competitive
man with a high-powered job – and the players
he coached – discovered humanity through Johnny
that they would not otherwise have known.
“It wasn’t just the players and their children
who were responding so positively to (Johnny,)”
Stallings wrote. “Many nights when I’d come
home from work, I’d find that his teacher, Nancy
Hall, had stopped by the house after school. She’d
help him with his homework and bring some kind of treat.”
In an obituary for Johnny that ran in the Dallas Morning
News, Laurie Vanderpool, one of Johnny’s four
sisters, said her brother was special.
“He just had a genuine impact on people, really
because he cared,” she said. “He would focus
on the people for who they were.”
Johnny became a fixture in the stadiums where Stallings
coached, which included the Dallas Cowboys and theSt.
Louisand Arizona Cardinals.
At theUniversityofAlabama, the football equipment room
is named in honor of Johnny. And a playground for the
campus’s RISE program for disabled children where
Johnny volunteered is named for him.
A deeply religious man, Stallings said the wish most
parents have for their children has been granted him
for his son Johnny.
“There’s no question he will be in the presence
of God forever,” Stallings said. “He was
a precious, precious child.”
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-The support, information and encouragement provided by the PPFL parents is not meant to take the place of medical advice by a medical professional. Any specific questions about care should be directed to a health care professional familiar with the situation.