Michael Springs played last week’s scrimmage with a chipped tooth, and while that may be described as a major trauma for some high school student athletes, for Springs it amounted to almost nothing.
Witness to his mother’s death at the hands of his father, and subjected to a very public aftermath due to the same, Springs began to understand real trauma as a mere 9-year old.
That was accompanied by foster care stays in Fort Smith, Springdale, Little Rock, Mena and Paris before settling in Booneville, which he calls home. All of which doesn’t take into consideration a stay in Arizona with one of seven siblings.
During that stay in Arizona Springs played football.
"I liked it up there a lot. They let me play quarterback a little bit (and) running back," said Springs. "I came down here on spring break and we were still in school and during a pep rally I called my sister and I was like, I can’t leave, I miss it too much.
"She was like ‘I was scared when you went up there you were going to stay because you would miss it too much."
Now adopted by Melanie and Dustin Bailey here, Springs still sees his sister in Arizona and other family members, including a brother who graduated in Paris, but with all of his sports obligations and work it becomes difficult. Springs plays football, basketball, baseball and, although he is a senior, may even run track this year.
Some here know Springs’ story, or at least the, again, very public parts. Some know even more.
"My closest friends, like Cody (Harrel), Bryson (May), people I want to know," said Springs.
Save Your Sympathy
There is no disrespect in that wish whatsoever but they also know of problems within his current family situation — Springs calls it a rough spot — but Springs is not looking for pity, though he is forced to admit it seems like heartache "follows me everywhere I go."
It would be easy to be bitter at life in general. Not Springs.
"I use (everything) as my momentum. I want people to know that if you have hard times in your life it doesn’t mean you have to change anything you want to do," said Springs. "You should use that to make the fire burn brighter."
Springs has also forgiven his father.
"My dad, as a dad, not what he did, I love my dad to death. It took me a long time, like three years to forgive him," said Springs. "I knew that if I had hate in my heart, like if I had it right now, I wouldn’t be exactly like him but I would hate everybody so actually it helped me a lot as a person, to forgive.
"If something happens to me, like that dude who cussed me out in the eighth grade, I was like whatever."
He has also helped others.
"I was talking to a girl and she had an incident. I was like ‘don’t put up with that,’" Springs said. "She (later) messaged me on Facebook and she was like ‘thank you so much, you don’t understand how much that helped.’ I was happy I could help somebody, because with what I went through nobody should go through (her situation) alone."
Still, Springs knows his story is known, of course, but he doesn’t spread it.
"I don’t tell some people because they’re like, ‘I’m so sorry,’ but I don’t want you to feel pity for me because I’m strong. It’s good (for people to be concerned) but don’t baby me about it. I grew up. I learned to deal with it."
In A Minority
Besides being a minority in truly understanding hardship, Springs in a minority in the typical sense of the word. As a student-athlete of race, however, Springs says he hasn’t had to deal with what others might have.
"I have no trouble (in school)," he said.
But he has seen the ugliness of racial individuals.
"I actually did have one incident when I was in eighth grade. My brother came down here, and he’s super black. I said something to a girl and she took it the wrong way, I was just joking around, and her mother came out yelling at me and my brother yelling at her," Springs recalls. "And (the girl’s) brother came to school cussing at me and stuff, and was using the n-word.
"It’s not a big deal."
What can be a big deal for a high school kid, dating or even friendship with members of the opposite sex, is still somewhat closed to Springs, however.
"It kind of bothers me that (parents, girls) think I’m the typical black guy they see on movies, but I’m really not like that," he says, then adds. "They just help me to know they missed out on a whole lot that could have been good."
Springs has also been told that Booneville has come a long way in its feelings toward race.
Though he is one of just two, he thinks, black students at Booneville High School, he is not the first to wear a Bearcat uniform. And, the school had its first black Mr. BHS just two years ago.
Still A Typical Teen
Springs is, nonetheless, a typical teen in a lot of ways, according to his adoptive mother.
Sneaking out at night and wrecking the family vehicle — the one large enough for the entire family — are counted among his misbehavior.
"I said ‘first of all I’m glad you’re okay,’ but if you’re going to wreck something, take the two-seater," Melanie Bailey said.
Other than the obvious, race, differences are also few.
"He’s laid back. He fits in. I’ve never seen him go anywhere he doesn’t fit in," says Bailey. "He fit in with us immediately."
Springs has lived with the Baileys for two years and although he already had seven brothers and sisters, he acquired three more.
"He’s protective of the girls. He looks after them like they’re his own," said Bailey. "I think to him they’re his brother and sisters."
Bearcat head coach Scott Hyatt agrees.
"He can aggravate you (but) he’s a good kid. He’s really an easy kid to love," said Hyatt. "He’s got a good personality, when he’s in a good mood he’s always smiling. He likes to have a good time, he’s always joking and popping off."
Too much, maybe? He addressed offensive coordinator Doc Crowley in a less than acceptable manner in one practice, causing Crowley to stop the drill and tell Springs he could call him by something other than Coach Crowley after he graduates in May.
Still it may be easy to overlook some things.
"With everything that he’s been through in his short, young life, he’s developing into a fine young man," said Hyatt.
Hoping For A Full Season
Due to the moving around between his eighth and ninth grade years, Springs missed his freshman season — given how much he played in the eighth grade, he was likely to start — and most of his sophomore year, returning in week seven.
As a junior last year he dislocated his elbow in the fourth game of the season and was finished for the year.
"My friends are always messing with me," says Springs. "You stiff-armed the ground, it makes me so mad. I tried to keep my balance."
Springs, who also wears a knee brace on his left knee, has had his share of misfortune on the football field. He was beaten for a touchdown on the third play Monday night.
"He got behind me and I thought the ball was lower than it was," Springs said.
Springs may be too hard on himself.
"I feel like I need to train a lot more. It seemed like I ran the ball all right, but I can be a lot better," he said.
In addition to his duties as a defensive back, Springs also plays running back and lines up as a receiver in shotgun sets.
"I like running the ball a lot for some reason. It feels like what I’m supposed to do," said Springs, who wears number 28.
"No, it’s a Monty Ball thing, when he was in college (Wisconsin). I like him, he was really good," said Springs.
But, Springs admits he is a Peterson fan.
The tooth came out Tuesday morning.
"It didn’t bother me. I didn’t want it to break off more," Springs said. "(The dentist) said he was going to try to fill it at first, but it made no sense because I lost a big part of it."