In early May, the Carolina Cobras, a 12U travel softball team, gathered for their regular practice session.
But softball wasn’t on the mind of the girls or their coaches, Jon Vanderpool and Tyrone Lane. Instead, for a third of the practice, the talk centered round the death of Mooresville Police Officer Jordan Sheldon. Sheldon was gunned down in a traffic stop just days before.
“For about 15 or 20 minutes that’s all they talked about,” Vanderpool said.
The girls and the coaches turned that talk into action. They decided to trade their traditional and recognizable Kelley green uniforms shirts for blue ones, and each had Sheldon’s name across the back. It was their way of paying tribute to Sheldon.
They also decided one of the shirts would be kept aside and presented to the Mooresville Police Department in honor of Sheldon. They presented that shirt last week to Acting Police Chief Rob Campurciani, Deputy Chief Gerald Childress and members of the department’s K-9 unit.
Sheldon’s K-9 partner, Ramon, was on hand for the presentation.
The girls also decided to give plaques to the department each time they finished first or second in a tournament, Vanderpool said, and so far this season, that’s meant two plaques to the police department.
Campurciani accepted the plaques and the shirt from the team, but handed the shirt back, asking that every member of the team sign it before he took it.
“It was quite amazing to see what these girls did and how they kept the police department in general, but specifically Officer Sheldon in their thoughts,” Campurciani said. “It was humbling to see this outpouring from the coaching staff and the girls. The other K-9 handlers who worked so closely with Officer Sheldon were there also for this presentation. I know it was very meaningful to them to be part of this.”
Childress also said the gifts from the girls were an inspiration.
“We are very appreciative of the Carolina Cobras honoring Jordan by dedicating their season in his memory,” he said. “Their efforts help to inspire all of us to never forget the sacrifice Jordan made and his dedication to the community he served.”
The decision to honor Sheldon goes far beyond the field for these girls and the coaches and fits in with the mission of molding not just great athletes but great young women.
For some of the girls, the loss of Sheldon hit home. He’d come to their school with his K-9 Ramon to do programs.
“It was so sad,” player Lauren Vanderpool said.
Dedicating their games in honor of Sheldon was a way of thanking him as well as the entire Mooresville Police Department for their service, several of the girls said. “They do something not a lot of people do,” said player Cadence Lane.
And the expressions of appreciation came from all of the girls. “Thank you for your service,” was a sentiment voiced by many of the girls.
Paying tribute to Sheldon also produced some of the very benefits Vanderpool and Coach Tyrone Lane are working to instill in the girls – creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Getting to meet some of the officers and their K-9s, including Ramon, was one of those experiences for the girls. The dogs, in particular, were a big hit. “They were all very sweet,” said player Carmen Freeze.
The meet-and-greet also provided the girls with a sense of confidence. “It made me feel good that I was able to help my community,” said player Lalia Elliott.
“I was happy to help remember him for what he did,” player Caroline Snow added.
Coach Vanderpool said meeting the police officers was a good experience for the girls. “They asked a lot of good questions and it was a good interaction with the police,” he said.
Jon Vanderpool said the efforts to honor Sheldon extended beyond the immediate Cobra family. HTC Sports and Designs in Salisbury designed the jerseys the girls and coaches wore as well as the one to honor Sheldon.
He said wearing the blue jerseys in honor of Sheldon unexpectedly provided a humorous moment during the season when they arrived to play a frequent opponent. Accustomed to seeing the team in its traditional green, the other team’s coaches didn’t recognize the Cobras. “They said we didn’t know it was you guys,” Vanderpool said.
While the opponent may have not recognized them in blue rather than green, the girls showed that no matter what color the jersey, they are about much more than softball.
And that’s a lesson that will serve them well after their playing days are over, Vanderpool said.