Welcome to football season in the SEC. In the South, passion for your team runs deep in your blood and rivalries are fierce. It is where kids root for their family’s team before they are even born. It is where winning is the only thing acceptable. It is where uttering the other team’s battle cry is considered worse than a curse word. It is also where 7-year-old Julia Ladd decided that, above all these things, being a friend was more important than a rivalry.
Let’s face it: who wouldn’t be annoyed to have a fan of the opposing team sitting in their section? Who wouldn’t want to jab and poke fun at the fan when their team was losing? This is the situation Auburn fan Reggie Saxton found himself in when the Auburn Tigers took on the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, Miss. on Oct. 11.
“I purchased my tickets online and was glad to get great seats,” said Saxton, a resident of Meridian, Miss. “Once I got to my seat, I realized that I was alone in a section surrounded by maroon and white. Pretty overwhelming.”
Auburn had been behind the whole game after turning over the ball on their first two possessions, allowing Mississippi State to gain a two-touchdown lead early on. Rough for any Auburn fan to watch, it would make it even more difficult sitting alone amongst opposing fans. Saxton, however, remained calm.
Breck Ladd noticed Saxton sitting two rows in front of him, ignoring the playful jabs and quips of Mississippi State fans.
“Throughout the first half, I heard several ribbing comments made in his direction from those around him,” Ladd, who is a Mississippi State fan, said about Saxton. “He sat there calm and loyal to his Auburn Tigers. He never responded to the guys in front of him shaking their cowbells in his direction. He would simply clap for his team—no yelling, no fist pumping. Nothing but a clap.”
There was one Mississippi State fan, in particular, that was paying close attention to Saxton. Seven-year-old Julia Ladd took notice that he was alone. When a play turned in Auburn’s favor, two things in the otherwise quiet stadium rang out: clapping from Saxton and a hearty “Go Auburn!” from Julia.
Her father, Breck Ladd, said she was quickly rebuked for her actions, and was obviously crushed by her parents’ insistence that she cheered for Mississippi State, not Auburn. When asked why she yelled the phrase, she stated, “That man is all alone. It makes me sad.”
“Our hearts melted,” Ladd said. “She was oblivious to the score on the scoreboard. She just knew he wasn’t cheering that much.”
Touched by her actions, Julia’s parents took her down to meet Saxton, and explained what had happened.
“It was Julia’s dad who approached me and explained to me that his daughter would love it if she could get a picture of us two together,” Saxton said. “I turned around and there she was in her cheerleader outfit with her poncho. She brought a little sunshine to a rainy day.” (Photo credit: Breck Ladd)
Saxton and the Ladd family were able to reconnect after the story of Julia’s compassion went viral. Now, Saxton says, he has a new set of friends and memories that will last forever. He says he hopes Julia continues to root for her team and spreading the joy of enjoying sports the friendly way.
“I believe the lesson learned here is there is always an opportunity to make a new friend, and to spread the enjoyment of the moment,” Saxton said. “Seize the moment to spread joy and look after each other. God will make a way.”
Although Julia is only 7, she has proven to be wise beyond her years. Her father says he is thankful to his daughter for reminding him of the most important part of a football game.
“Thank you, Julia, for reminding me and those around us that winning a football game is fun and even worth cheering for, but it’s not the most important thing,” Ladd said in the post on his Facebook page. “The most important thing is that we love God and love people.”
As an Auburn fan, I will gladly give young Julia a hearty “Hail State” for showing us what a true rivalry should be. As Saxton said, “Sports goes way beyond winning and losing. It’s all about fan enjoyment and friendly rivalry, and in this case, a young girl’s desire for no one to be left out or alone.” War Eagle and Hail State, Julia!
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