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Saints playing in emotional pain

12/03/2015, 7:00pm PST
By Jim Lindgren

St. Augustine football season dedicated to players' deceased moms

Tysean White (7) and Francoise Sims II (29) lost their mothers in June. Elijah Preston (20) is a cousin of Sims and was like a second son to Sims’ mother. The Saints wear decals on their helmets in memory of the moms.

Six months have passed, but not the pain.

It won’t when you’re a high school kid who has unexpectedly lost his mother.

Not when she was a single mom who worked hard to make ends meet and sacrificed so much to send her only child to a private school. Not when she was your world, your best friend who never missed a game in your life.

Not when you’re Francoise Sims II.

And not when you’re Tysean White.

“The pain never really goes away,” Sims said. “At times it fades, but it always comes back.”

St. Augustine will play perhaps the biggest game in the school’s 93-year history on Saturday night against Helix in the Open Division championship of the San Diego Section playoffs.

It’s been a magic season dedicated to the lives of Delcina Sims, 50, and Quiana Washington, 33 — the deceased mothers of Francoise, 17, and Tysean, 15.

“It was just me and my mom my entire life,” Sims said. “My mom was my everything, my mother, my father, my best friend. She was a real chill mom. I could open up to her about anything.”

Sims and fellow senior star running back Elijah Preston are cousins and best friends since the fifth grade.

“We’re like brothers, and (Delcina) treated me like a son,” Preston said. “I basically had my own room over there.”

The Saints hang banners for every game and wear decals on their helmets in memory of these two remarkable women who died suddenly within six days of each other in June.

“It made me feel good that the team would play their hearts out in memory of both of our moms,” said Tysean, a sophomore linebacker.

Coach Richard Sanchez was a comforting father figure in both cases.

On June 2, Tysean White was taking a final exam. Sanchez received a call that morning from Tysean’s aunt, Sherrell Tyler, asking if he could give Tysean a ride home because his mother was going into emergency surgery. Quiana, who was diagnosed with lupus two years prior, had been in the hospital for less than two days.

A short time later, Tyler called Sanchez again to change the plan. Quiana didn’t make it.

Sanchez instead drove Tysean to Sharp Chula Vista Hospital and was there when Tysean got the chilling news.

“As we’re driving down there, my heart is just bleeding inside,” Sanchez said. “He’s about to find out his mom just died.”

Recalled Tysean, “The first day they said everything was going well. The next day her heart rate slowed way down. Eventually it just stopped beating.”

It was the first time Sanchez ever had to deal with the death of a player’s parent. Imagine getting that same call six days later.

On June 8, Francoise Sims II was sleeping in after helping St. Augustine win the SDSU passing tournament title the day before. He got a call from his aunt, Anne Ford-Thompson, beckoning him to Sharp Memorial Rehabilitation Center where Delcina was getting treatment after suffering a stroke six weeks prior.

“I had just seen her the night before, and she was doing well,” Francoise said. “She was able to stand on her own, she could walk a little with assistance and was regaining some of the feeling she had lost.”

Like Tysean six days before, Francoise entered the facility to a host of doctors and nurses and a crying aunt who issued the grim report. Delcina had a seizure during a rehab session and never recovered.

“I just said, ‘No!’” Francoise recalled. “I collapsed. I lost it.”

Holding his mother’s lifeless hand, Francoise called Elijah and then Coach Sanchez, who both rushed to the hospital to grieve and give support.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘This really can’t be happening right now,’” said Sanchez, adding later: “I just knew I had to be there for them. We develop a relationship with our players, and soon it becomes a family.”

A third call came a month later.

Daniel Vazquez, a sophomore offensive lineman on the junior varsity, lost his mother, Maria, in July after her prolonged battle with breast cancer.

Then on Nov. 19, the day before beating Eastlake 54-14 in the quarterfinals, the Saints got word that longtime track coach Jerry Downey died of a heart attack in Montana. Downey had retired in June, and Sims and Preston were members of his last track team.

In every instance, the “Saints Family” rallied with support and donations. Sims and White needed that more than ever since both had to move in with their respective aunt.

“Saints is a really good place to be … in all situations,” Sims said. “They really look after you.”

Said Sanchez: “I’m just very proud of them. Having to deal with those things in the way they did, I couldn’t be prouder.

“I feel so privileged to be a part of those relationships, to play a part in fostering that brotherhood that we have here. God put us all in this situation for a reason. Our administration, our coaching staff, our players all rallied to help them through this.”

No. 2-seeded St. Augustine (10-2) is considered the underdog against No. 1 Helix (10-1) in Saturday’s feature championship. They’d have a better chance if Sims were able to play, but torn ligaments in his elbow will keep him out. He is second on the team with 10 touchdowns and among the leaders in tackles (46) and sacks (5) from his linebacker spot.

Four-year starters, Sims, Preston and linebacker Quinn Seau, a nephew of the late Junior Seau, have all been key to St. Augustine playing in its fourth consecutive championship game. All three are being recruited for college scholarships. And all three have experienced a recent death in the family.

For Sims and White, however, it was their loving mother, their biggest fan.

“It was very hard to deal with,” Preston said, “but (Francoise and Tysean) handled it very well. Having football helped a lot. They know we’re here for them. We’re like a second family.

“And all this has given us the extra drive to win.”

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