By Jonathan Guess / Smokies Radio Network
This September will mark the two-year anniversary of a day that no one in Haleyville, Ala. will ever forget. On September 29, 2010 the war in Afghanistan claimed the life one of Haleyville’s beloved sons, Mark Forester.
Mark Forester graduated from Haleyville High School in 1999, the same high school that current Tennessee Smokies pitcher Trey McNutt attended years later. According to McNutt, Mark’s death was tough on everyone in the community. He described Forester as ‘more than a man, he was a hero, even before he passed away in Afghanistan.’
Family and friends decided to take action to make sure Mark’s service and bravery were never forgotten. The Mark A. Forester Foundation was created in 2010 to honor and remember Mark’s life.
On Monday, May 21, McNutt teamed up with fellow Alabaman, family friend and the Voice of the Smokies, Mick Gillispie, to help honor Mark and the foundation. Mick and Trey left Pearl, Miss. a day after McNutt pitched 5.0 innings and got a win in a 6-3 Smokies victory against the Mississippi Braves.
They were in Haleyville to attend the Haleyville High School awards ceremony and to hand out the Mark Forester Price of Freedom Scholarship to two of Haleyville High School’s outstanding students who embody Mark’s character and passion.
McNutt knew how important it was for him to continue to be part of honoring a fallen hero, and he was more than happy to return to his old high school to be part of the ceremony.
“It felt great, you know, going back to your hometown and giving away a scholarship for a guy that gave his life over in Afghanistan,” McNutt said, “I felt really blessed to hand it out for his family, it was just really great that they wanted us there and to be a part of that with them.”
Gillispie felt the importance of honoring Mark as well, and he was thrilled to be invited to the ceremony.
“I thought it was just an honor to be invited to do that,” Gillispie said, “it was special because so many people were involved to raise money that funded the scholarships.”
Gillispie and McNutt were part of a coalition that reached out to anyone they could to help garner support for the foundation.
“And it wasn’t just people in our front office, but it was also fans and surrounding community. And the outreach we got from the Cubs, the Smokies and just people who love patriotism and appreciate America, it was really outstanding,” Gillispie said.
The presentation was a great opportunity for the Voice of the Smokies to use his voice in other ways besides calling the on the field Smokies action.
“For me personally, it was a great opportunity to get to say a few words about Mark, and to remind people how special their freedom is in this country,” Gillispie said, “it may not have been a setting where they would expect to hear some good words about one of their own heroes. So it was really special to be able to do go and present the scholarship for the Forester family.”
Mick and Trey departed from the awards ceremony and joined up with the rest of the Smokies in Pearl, Miss. for the final game of the five game series against the Braves, displaying their dedication to honoring Mark Forester even if it meant taking time out of their daily routines.
Mark Forester is survived by his parents, Ray and Pat, one sister, three brothers, 13 nieces and nephews, and an entire community of friends who are dedicated to honoring his memory.