If you drive through Walton County, you will find stretches of road named in honor of three servicemen who gave their lives in defense of the country – Lt. Joseph Helton Memorial Parkway in front of Monroe Area High School in Monroe, Sgt. Michael Stokely Memorial Highway on a stretch of Highway 81, and Maj. W. David Gray Memorial Highway on a stretch of Highway 20. Helton was a graduate of Monroe Area High School and Stokely and Gray graduated from Loganville High School before they joined the armed services. All three ultimately lost their lives while serving in a combat zone.
Monroe Mayor John Howard and Loganville Mayor Rey Martinez have found another way to honor these three servicemen and to keep their sacrifice in the minds of future generations of MAHS and LHS students – especially those involved in the football programs.
“You know Mayor Howard and I always get in on the rivalry between Loganville and Monroe high schools’ football. Like last year with the shirts,” Martinez said. “Well this year we have another idea and we are very excited about this.”
At the traditional MAHS Hurricane game vs LHS Red Devils, Martinez and Howard help generate excitement by pledging to wear the colors of the opposing team if their team loses. Last year, the game was at MAHS’s Purple Pit in Monroe and the game went to the home team. Martinez got to wear purple, hot sweaty purple, in the form of a shirt taken off a player.
This year, the game is on Aug. 30 at Red Devil Stadium in Loganville and the wager will take on a much deeper meaning. A plaque will be awarded to the winning team to stay on display at that school until it is won back by the opposing team. But it won’t be just any plaque – it will be one honoring the three fallen soldiers from Walton County who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts. The game will be named the Freedom Bowl and the plaque will bear the names of the three fallen heroes from Walton County.
“This game is played in honor of Lt. Helton, Sgt. Stockely and Maj. Gray who did give the ultimate sacrifice for their cities, the state of Georgia and these United States,” Howard said. “There are two things that Rey and I plan on doing as we offer our thanks to the families of the fallen heroes. It’s is our intent to present the winning team with an award that will go in the trophy case of the winning team for one year.”
And while the Freedom Bowl will be played in honor of the fallen heroes, it will still remain a friendly rivalry. Howard said the mayor of the losing team still gets to wear a hot sweaty jersey off a player of the winning team.
Lisa Gray, widow of Ronnie Gray, brother of Maj. Gray, was at Loganville Thursday to hear details of the Freedom Bowl and has said she and other family members will be at the first official Freedom Bowl at the end of the month. Robert Stokely, the father of Lt. Stokely, attended the meeting by phone and said he hopes to be at the game as well, along with the widow of his son.
“We hope this will begin a tradition that will carry on forever, but I know and long as Mayor Howard and I are in office it will,” Martinez said.
The trophy will be presented at the end of the game. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at Red Devil Stadium in Loganville.