By Brandon Walker
Daily Times Leader
One by one, 16 senior football players made the slow walk across McAllister Field at West Point High School Friday night, with each player being accompanied by his family for Senior Night festivities.
After the 16th player was introduced just prior to West Point’s season finale, he kissed his mother, turned, and found the rest of his senior teammates. That’s when the entire group gathered together and sprinted to the center of the field to be with the 17th senior, Tyler Wallace.
Wallace wasn’t physically here Friday night, but spiritually and emotionally, he has never left West Point High School. A freshman football player that passed away tragically at the age of 15 in May of 2009, Wallace’s memory lives on in the hearts and minds of his teammates, his friends, his family and everyone associated with West Point. That much was obvious on Friday night, when each of Wallace’s former classmates took time before the Wave’s game against New Hope to personally greet Wallace’ parents, Paul and Dodie Wallace. The spontaneous outpouring of emotion from West Point’s senior class delayed the start of the game by 10 minutes, but nobody seemed to mind, as West Point’s home crowd responded with a standing ovation for the Wallace family.
For Paul Wallace, the senior night ceremony was emotionally draining, but in the end, the support and friendship offered Friday night was very real, and it was indicative of the family-type atmosphere that surrounds the WPHS football program. It’s that family-first attitude that Wallace says has helped tremendously during the painful aftermath of his son’s passing.
“I can’t say enough about this team, these coaches,” said Wallace. “Tyler……he loved the West Point Green Wave. He always wanted to play for the Wave, and in the last two years, I know that everybody here loved him, too.”
Spend more than two minutes in a conversation with any WPHS senior football player, and Paul Wallace’s observation becomes stunningly clear. To a man, each player that grew up with Wallace remembers a fun-loving, spirited teammate that demanded the best on the field – and was a great you man away from the field.
A lineman who played left tackle for West Point’s freshman team in 2008, Wallace was considered to be the emotional leader of the offensive line, and in a way, he’s still leading the charge today for a unit that has spearheaded two straight state championship runs.
“He’s always with us,” said Jonathon Jones, West Point’s 6-3, 300-pound right tackle. “When I come to the line and I’m excited, pumping my fists, I feel like he’s right beside me, because that’s exactly what he would be doing. He would be jumping up and down, banging us on the helmet and making sure we had fun.’
Jones’ observation sparks a smile on the face on Paul Wallace, who says of his son, “Yeah, he was that type of player. He loved football, and he loved to hit. He was always one of the loudest, most fun-loving kids on the team. That was just him.”
Perhaps no one on West Point’s football team knew Tyler any better than senior center Alex Hall, who currently wears Wallace’s No. 74 jersey to honor his late teammate. The two were best of friends, and its Hall who gets chosen to stand on the “TW” logo every Friday night during home games to honor Wallace. Two years after his death, Wallace is still inspiring Hall, now a 3-year starter for WPHS.
“We were best friends, brothers….However you want to say it,” said Hall. “He meant the world to me. There’s not one day that goes by that I don’t think about him, and that goes double for the football field. Sometimes I look down and I see his number on my jersey, and that tells me to keep fighting.”
As far as wearing his friend’s jersey, the decision came down from an important place, according to Hall.
“Before one season, Mr. Paul (Wallace) came up to me and asked if I would be open to wearing Tyler’s number. He told me he wanted me to be the one to wear it” said Hall. “That meant everything to me.”
‘It was tough’
In the days and weeks following Tyler’s death,, the Wallace family – Paul, Dodie, and son, Brian – understandably had a tough time, as did many associated with the West Point football program. Fortunately, the family and the team sought solace in each other, leaning on the other for support and guidance, and building an unshakeable bond that will continue long after the 2011 seniors have graduated.
“For me, this team has been absolutely incredible,” said Paul Wallace. “They have been here for us the entire way. I can’t say enough about Chris Chambless. That guy does more behind the scenes, away from the football field than anybody will ever know. This team really has been something special.”
Paul Wallace’s association with West Point football has steadily grown since his son’s death. In 2009, Wallace donated t-shirts to the team with the slogan “Never Quit” emblazoned on the front, a tribute to Tyler Wallace. In the past two years, the Wallace family has frequently spoken to the team and even fed the players on occasion.
This year, Paul Wallace officially joined the cast at WPHS, serving as team videographer. For Chambless, the chance for his players and coaches to stay close to the Wallace family has shown benefit for both sides.
“This is a family. And these seniors lost a family member, a brother, when they lost Tyler,” said Chambless. “So naturally, we wanted to remain close to Tyler’s parents. Paul knows that they are just as much a part of the team as anybody else.”
Paul Wallace has remained close to several WPHS players and coaches, though he doesn’t feel he’ll ever be able to express enough gratitude for what they’ve meant. For one coach especially, Wallace has a message.
“I just want to say to Brian Sellers that he was always Tyler’s favorite coach,” said Paul Wallace of Sellers, who coaches the Wave freshman team and the WPHS golf team, both of Which Tyler played for. “I know Brian has had a tough time, like we all have. But he needs to know how much Tyler thought of him.”
A chance to remember
After Friday night’s ceremony, West Point’s seniors went about their business and did what they usually do; they won a football game, crushing New Hope 56-20. And when the game was over, more hugs and tears were shared with the Wallace family. But when the last whistle blows this season and the final horn sounds, the relationship between 16 seniors and the Wallace family will not end. Instead, it will last forever, like Wallace’s memory in the hearts of everyone associated with WPHS football.
“We miss him so much,” said Hall. “But he has never left us, never left me. I don’t care how long I live, I’ll always be there for his family, and I will never forget Tyler Wallace.”