Golden-Hearted Families: Leas and Strains return to Jacksonville to help those in need

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

Justin Lea, Courtney Strain and Leah Strain all were born and grew up hours away from Jacksonville. But major life milestones over the years have made Jacksonville State home for the trio.

For Courtney, it was meeting current fiancé Dalton Screws, who was a teammate of Lea under Bill Clark and John Grass, on top of countless basketball games played inside Pete Mathews Coliseum. For Leah, it was the friendships and memories created, joining the nursing program and, like her older sister, the time spent on the now ruined hardwood of Pete Mathews Coliseum. For Justin, JSU gave him an opportunity to continue playing the sport — football — he loves; a sport he hopes will continue giving in the future with a professional opportunity.

So, it’s easy to understand why they took the initiative to come and lend a hand … more specifically 100 hands.

Courtney, now a science teacher and coach at Handley High School, and her dad, Larry, brought 41 student-athletes from Roanoke, a city an hour and 18 minutes from JSU’s campus, to assist Lea and his brother, Jay, cutting and clearing trees from the yard of Jamie “Red” Etheredge, who has been a strong supporter of JSU student programs, and the area surrounding the Alumni house.

“I just know Red does a lot for JSU athletes … He’s one of the biggest supporters we have,” said Lea. “My hometown was hit in 2011 and we saw a lot of people come from out of town to help us, so I just wanted to find a way to come out and help.

“I give credit to my parents and grandparents and those who raised me when I think about the man I am today and to think about yourself last and if someone needs help, go help them.”

For Larry, who is the head coach at Handley, it was a no-brainer to bring some of his athletes to Jacksonville and help.

“There is no better team-building exercise than helping others,” Larry said. “It was actually about 10:30 Wednesday night when I decided we needed to do it. We got to school yesterday and the first people I called were my principal and superintendent and they were more than supportive about the idea. The kids knew nothing about it yesterday, so when I asked this morning, all their hands went up.

“I knew it was the right thing to do. As a team, we need to learn to help other people when they need help.”

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Thursday morning, both Courtney and Leah reached out to get in touch with JSU athletic director Greg Seitz, who pointed Larry in another direction before he was able to connect the EMA and get the OK to help.

According to Larry, his initial intentions were to help clean up JSU’s softball field, tennis courts and the rest of the spring sports venues. However, with the school’s campus closed to all non-essentially personnel until April 2nd, the near 50-person clean-up crew spend most of Friday morning in Red’s backyard moving parts of trees.

“It was a great two-in-one scenario,” Courtney said. “You’re helping a community that’s very near our families but also bonding as a team. I told someone this earlier, but these kids need to realize life isn’t always about them and their wants and their needs. They may not realize it right now, but one day they’re going to look back and realize you’re supposed to do things for other people because one day you may be in the same situation.”

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