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By MARK KETCHUM
The Alleghany News
Copyright 2011, reprinted with permission
SPARTA, N.C. — Trojan senior Luke Hampton continues in his leadership role despite being in a hospital bed with a spinal injury.
Hampton, 17, is the son of Randy and Benita Hampton. He has family in the Galax area.
He achieved the number one ranking in North Carolina for wrestling among 182-pounders in Class 1-A. A few weeks earlier, Hampton had been awarded All-Conference at offensive back in football.
On Dec. 3, Hampton broke his neck at a wrestling tournament at Hibriten High School in Lenoir during the James Tuttle Invitational.
Alleghany Head Coach Derrick Calloway said Hampton was going for a take-down when he collided with a wall. Although the wall was padded, the impact apparently broke the C5 and C6 vertebrae in Hampton’s neck
Although currently suffering extensive paralysis, the full extent of his injury is unclear at this time. The fractures may have caused some damage to his spinal cord.
Hampton has apparently regained some movement of his head and shoulders, and is breathing better.
Hampton was initially admitted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Winston-Salem, N.C., for treatment. After his condition stabilized, Hampton was transferred to the Shepherd Center, a private hospital in Atlanta, on Dec. 8 and is in rehabilitation.
Reports say he is already exceeding expectations.
Alleghany High School held a balloon release ceremony to coincide with the liftoff of Hampton’s flight to the Shepherd Center, recognized as one of the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation, specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury.
They Don’t Know Luke
Opponents on the football field and wrestling mat know Hampton as a fierce, determined athlete. Hampton’s wrestling coach Derrick Calloway said Hampton only has one speed, “100 percent full speed.”
But there is more to Hampton than his athletic accomplishments.
“A typical student here, a typical mountain boy,” is how one school staff member described Hampton, “A little rough around the edges, but with a heart of gold.”
Debbie Weaver, a coach at Alleghany High School, agreed. “I called him up one Sunday and told him about an old woman. There had been a death in her family, and she didn’t have any wood or any way to get it. Luke went out and cut some wood and took it to her. That’s the kind of person he is.”
Another staff member noted, “Nobody supports the other students like Luke. He can be kind of gruff, but if you need him, he’s there.”
And the community has come together in support of Hampton and his family. Signs began appearing almost immediately at businesses, on car windows and on giant hand-made cards at the school. Formal and impromptu prayer circles were formed.
Although friends appear somber when discussing Hampton’s injury, a small smile shows up time and again. “They don’t know Luke,” is a common refrain when the possibility of permanent damage is discussed.
“If anybody can overcome this it’s Luke.”
Students have created a line of T-shirts featuring the words “Luke Strong.” They can be purchased at the high school.
A quickly organized money collection at the high school yielded $444 “just from the students, and that’s without them even asking their parents for money.”
And a fund to help the Hampton family has been created at the State Employees’ Credit Union.
The Larger Community
Calloway also noted how the wrestling community at large was responding. The coach said five generations of Trojan wrestlers had been to visit Hampton in the hospital.
“Here in Alleghany, these kids wrestle together from the age of 5, and Luke’s a senior, so he’s got lots of older and younger wrestlers who know him,” Calloway noted.
Coaches and wrestlers from all over the state and even Virginia were dropping by to offer support. Teams with long histories as fierce competitors had already been to see their respected foe.
Parents and grandparents of Hampton’s wrestling opponents from across the state have called, including the grandparent of the wrestler Hampton was competing with when the accident occured.
Hampton has made a positive impression on a lot of people, and they are rallying their support for him.
Counseling And Healing
Alleghany High School Principal Chris Barnes emphasized the need for healing for the entire student body. He noted the students have grown up together and have known Hampton for most of their lives.
Barnes noted Hampton was a senior, and was well liked and respected by the other students. Senior year is, by tradition, supposed to be one of the best years of a person’s life, and to have something like this happen so unexpectedly has shocked the student body.
“They are dealing with mortality, their own and others'. Some of them for the first time ever,” Barnes explained.
Barnes and other staff members said the students are encouraged to talk to the school counselors.
Hampton’s younger brother Jake won all five of his wrestling matches in a Dec. 10 tournament. He also won “Most Outstanding Wrestler.”
Every team at the tournament double forfeited the 182 pound division as a tribute to Luke.
Additional reporting by Larry Chambers of The Declaration (Landmark News Service)