A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son
by Gene Stallings and Sally Cook
Little, Brown & Company, 1997
Gene Stallings always dreamed of having a son, a strapping boy who would grow up to play football, the sport he loved. On June 11, 1962 it appeared his dream had come true. That illusion was shattered within hours when he and his wife, Ruth Ann, learned that Johnny had Down syndrome. Later it was also found that he had a major heart defect.
This book describes how the Stallings dealt with these blows. Advised to institutionalize their son, they instead chose to love and embrace him, and to raise him at home. It was sometimes a challenge, but Johnny also contributed so much to their lives and, later, to the lives of others. A vital member of whatever football team Gene was coaching, Johnny helped everyone he came in contact with to develop their compassion muscles, while his parents raised public awareness of Down syndrome and other disabilities.
Johnny died this summer at the age of 46, and as I read this book, I was amazed at the positive influence he had and how many lives he touched. It made me wonder if I will touch half as many in my lifetime, and yet I would be the one to appear more richly blessed.