Becky Snead’s Spirit of Perseverance
By Wayne Wood
The two girls first began to know each other during their 8th grade year at Simmons Middle School in Hoover during the school year of 1997-1998. Though Erin McPherson was born in Gadsden, Alabama, she spent spent much of her growing-up years in the Bluff Park community of Hoover. Becky Snead moved with her parents from Springfield, Missouri before her 8th grade year along with her younger sister, Abby, who was going into the 7th grade.
The year before, I had the privilege of having Erin in my 7th grade Social Studies class. She was one of the sweetest girls with an outgoing personality and a genuine, deep spiritual insight to life. I didn’t have Becky in class as she hadn’t moved here yet but I did have her sister Abby in class a year later.
Erin’s personality quickly gained her many friendships yet she was very attentive to including new students such as Becky. One of Erin’s extra-curricular activities at Simmons was cheerleading. Becky became a member of the Simmons Lady Bucs 8th Grade Basketball Team for the season of 1997-98. It was during this time that I became connected with Becky as an assistant coach for the girls’ team.
This group did not have the talent that the class before them had nor the class behind them. Both those groups were 8th grade Metro-South League Champions and several of those players went on to Hoover High as a part of a state championship level program.
However, this group of girls worked hard and played their best getting along with each other very well even though they barely won more games than they lost. I remember them as a fun group to work with. Becky didn’t play much as she had limited basketball skills yet she worked very hard with a great persevering attitude. She did have good running ability as an athlete on the basketball court. Her jersey number was #30.
I recently asked one of her former 8th grade teammates, Adrienne Coley, to reflect on Becky. Adrienne replied, “I remember Becky as being very soft-spoken and was always smiling. I never caught a glimpse of anything BUT positivity from Becky as a teammate. Another 8th grade teammate, Courtney Dalton and I were close throughout the years and she always spoke very highly of Becky. They were very close. I know the rest of my teammates felt the same way as me.”
When the 1998 spring track season arrived, Becky and Erin connected athletically as teammates. The head coach of the Simmons boys & girls track program back then was Devon Hind who is now the very successful track coach at Hoover High winning many state championships the past several years. Coach Hind remembers both girls as being “very fine young women.” Erin participated in long distance running events while Becky engaged in sprinting events as well as jumping events.
The girls’ friendship grew stronger during their freshman year of 1998-1999 at Hoover High and they were members of the 9th grade track team under Coach Mary Birdwell for the spring of 1999 (20 years ago from here in 2019). Becky also attended church with Erin at Bluff Park United Methodist Church quite regularly.
That spring about April, I distinctly remember Becky and a few friends coming by Simmons to visit briefly with their former teachers and coaches. The other girls did most of the talking while Becky would just smile and be with them.
I also remember very vividly in late May that Erin and another friend of hers came by Simmons one day during the last week of school. The high school and middle school kids had just finished their semester exams and basically the school year was over for them. We teachers had a few work days yet enough flexible time to sometimes talk with visiting high school kids just out for the summer.
Erin made it a point to spend about 10 minutes or so with each one of her former teachers. Not many high school kids always did that and of course we appreciated it, That memory of Erin’s visit became more meaningful in time and it was simply the fact that she wanted her middle school teachers to know how much she loved and appreciated us. I didn’t know at the time that it would be the last time to see her alive.
Later that summer, on a July 3rd Saturday, Becky went with Erin and her family on a recreational outing on a lake in northwestern Alabama. The lake area was spacious enough to include a variety of normal summer water activities. Erin’s parents and her sister had access to a couple of two-seat Sea-Doo Watercrafts which could navigate the surface of the water at top speed at times able to jump over small waves made by larger boats.
There might be fishing boats along the edges of the lake yet there were also speed boats of larger sizes intent on propelling across the water at an obvious fast pace. It was an assortment of these variety of watercraft going on in different directions and different motions. You could possibly compare it to a huge paved parking lot with cars and motorcycles zooming all over the place with no marked lined-off lanes and driving discipline. A basic free-for-all.
Erin’s father and sister were on one See-Doo craft followed by Erin steering the other one with Becky seated behind her. Both crafts were cruising across the lake giving the occupants thrills and fun as they navigated throughout the lake region.
From what I understood days later talking to others, Mr. McPherson and his daughter’s craft came across the waves of a wake which a speed boat had just left with Erin & Becky close behind following the virtual same path. About the time that Erin veered across the waves made by the passing boat, another speed boat traveling in pretty much the opposite direction of the aforementioned boat came about. Erin probably didn’t see that boat until the last second and the driver of the boat probably didn’t see her craft because of a blind spot created by the other passing boat.
It was sudden tragedy as the boat hit Erin and her craft head-on probably killing her almost instantly. The back of Erin’s hit Becky’s skull near her eye. Of course, the girls had on life vests.
The authorities obviously handled the water tragedy details as soon as they could arrive in a professional manner. Becky had a severe concussion and was transported to a hospital in Huntsville, Alabama while Erin was brought back to Birmingham.
I didn’t find out about the tragic news until Monday when I happened to read a small article about it in the early afternoon edition of the Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper. I soon received a call from Carol Barber-our principal at Simmons. She had quite a task trying to reach as many faculty members as possible considering it was the day after the 4th of July weekend. It goes without saying it shocked and grieved many of us in Hoover and the surrounding area.
We depended on what word-of-mouth information we could accumulate. I went by the McPherson home as soon as I could to visit them. Vivid sad memories of the visitation evening at the Bluff Park Methodist Church followed by Erin’s funeral in the church chapel the next day still linger in my mind.
Erin’s funeral was obviously sad yet inspirational as well. We had a very special prayer for Becky during it. We traveled in the funeral procession of cars to a cemetery in Gadsden (Erin’s birthplace) which made it even sadder.
I managed to find out which Huntsville hospital that Becky was in and planned to travel up there the next day needing rest from the draining day. I spent the night of the long day in a motel in Albertville (one of the hometowns I grew up in) which is on the way from Gadsden to Huntsville.
Arriving at the hospital that morning, I eventually located where Becky and her family were. This was the second episode of this tragic journey was was obviously very emotional. Seeing Becky in that medical conditional state really affected me.
After visiting with the family and eating lunch with them in the hospital cafeteria, I began my journey back to Birmingham. I admit that when I passed the Gadsden exit on Highway I-59, I had to find a pull over rest stop to collect myself emotionally. Driving on, there was a strange hard-to-explain sense of strength and surge of emotional energy which came over me as I proceeded.
I had promised Mrs. Barber back at the cemetery in Gadsden what I was going to do the next day and would give her an update on Becky for what I could find out for the present. I did so immediately upon arriving in Birmingham. The series of events lit a certain impulsive flame of intensive prayer in many of us in Hoover in hopes of Becky’s recovery.
I made periodical calls to Becky’s mother, Janna. through the summer and into the fall for updates. When a school official lamented to me a week after the tragedy that he didn’t think Becky would make it that inspired me even more.
It was a struggle for weeks which became months but eventually in the fall Becky was going to be released to come home. Of course, there would still be hospital visits in Birmingham accompanied by intense therapy at home. She had a long way to go being confined to a specially made wheelchair to aid her head whether at home or being transported.
Along about November, we decided at Simmons to have a little ceremony for Becky hosted by our girls basketball teams, coaches and school administrators. Becky and her family, her former Simmons basketball teammates (who were now 10th graders at Hoover) and close friends were invited. Though it was informal it was special. We displayed Becky’s old #30 basketball jersey along with several other displays honoring Becky. The middle school girls had a difficult time at first trying to comprehend it all but the presence of the sophomore girl friends of Becky had a positive effect on them eventually.
After the basketball season, we had our annual dress-up banquet and invited Becky and her family to attend. We had a plaque made honoring Becky naming it the Becky Snead Spirit of Perseverance Award which we would give to a deserving 7th grade and 8th grade player that year and the years following. That was in the year of 2000 and have done so since and the plaque hangs in the Simmons hallway in the front lobby area.
There was something very uplifting later that spring. Most of the time we saw Becky, she was basically unresponsive except for times of pain and discomfort. However, I remember there were a few times that she seemed to be looking directly at me for a few seconds.
Janna called me one night to tell me the exciting news that Becky had shown a true and genuine smile on several occasions. It would occur a few seconds but with just enough time to validate that it was indeed real. I eventually found the time to go visit and see for myself and it was true! I got the Birmingham News to connect with Becky’s family to do a story and later that fall they ran a very nice on her.
There were still up and down medical issues and challenges in the months ahead. The months became years. Becky’s sister Abby eventually married. It got to the point where Janna couldn’t physically cope with the day-to-day stressful duties of taking care of Becky’s needs even with therapist visits at times.
Eventually, she decided to move back with Becky ti Springfield, Missouri and put her in a nursing home care center for constant professional care. Janna did decide to study and became a nurse herself. Obviously, she acquired a lot of experience and passion in this field caring for Becky all those years.
Janna indicated to me that the host of nurses and elderly patients in the facility fell in love with Becky and adopted her as their own. That was very touching to hear.
After awhile, Janna and I eventually didn’t communicate as often. Sadly, the last call we made to each other was soon after Becky died the early fall of 2011.
Yet as sad as that was in hearing that Becky passed away, I felt a strong measure of joy and relief for her knowing that all the suffering for 12 years with the concussion related injury, the effects of it and so forth were gone. Janna mentioned to me once that Becky wasn’t really living–not like a normal young person or any person is supposed to do.
I do strongly imagine that when Becky passed away, the first one to greet her in heaven was her friend Erin. Those of us who knew and loved them will always fell that way. Becky’s last part of her life has to be regarded and respected as one filled with a reverberating spirit of perseverance. She couldn’t show or say it. She lived it.