Ashton Brewer is eight years old, a huge Mississippi State fan, and as a melanoma patient, he’s in a rough state of life.
He’s also, like most boys his age, occasionally preoccupied with cheerleaders.
“Maybe we’ll run into some,” his mom joked with him.
Ashton just smiled and looked down. He was hanging out in the Gridiron Club by the field before MSU played UAB, his first ever State game.
“He’s girl crazy,” his mom told me before looking back to him. “Aren’t you, baby?”
“Noooo,” he said, drawing out the word as he blushed and looked to one-month-older cousin to make sure he wasn’t laughing at him.
Minutes later, we were walking out onto the field. A few steps ahead of them, I saw around the mouth of the tunnel before they did.
“Guess what, guys? I see the cheerleaders.”
Ashton and his cousin (and best friend) Christian looked at each other with big eyes and huge smiles.
As we turned the corner, a half dozen cheerleaders swarmed, hugging the two boys, talking to them, asking if they were having fun and taking pictures with them. They didn’t know it was Ashton’s only chance at seeing a game and meeting them, but his dreams came true hanging out with those young ladies.
Ashton and Christian got to walk around the field during pre-game and meet some players, most of whom were two, three or even four times as big as them.
“Christian wants to be an offensive lineman.”
“Oh really,” MSU offensive lineman Rufus Warren said. “So you’re gonna be playing with me one day.”
Standing at midfield, long snapper Winston Chapman introduced himself to Ashton before going through warm-ups as usual.
“Where do you want me to send it?” Chapman asked Ashton as he got ready to snap the ball to punter Devon Bell. “Left hip? Middle of the chest? Anywhere you want it, I’ll hit the target.”
Walking around the stadium on the way to their seats, Ashton and Christian were amazed by the massive structure and absolutely baffled at 1) the number of people gathered in one place and 2) the $75 million it took to build the new endzone in Davis Wade Stadium.
“You’d have to live to 100 to make that much money,” they told me
Ashton’s dad Daniel isn’t actually a huge fan of any particular team, though the Bulldogs are his choice if any, and this is his first time to an MSU game, too.
“I only got lost once trying to park,” he proudly told me.
But Ashton’s grandfather went to State, as did many of Daniel’s friends, and Ashton has spent his whole life being raised as a Bulldog. He hardly had a choice, really.
“They’re the only team I know,” he said.
“So it’s MSU or nobody?” I asked.
When he was born, Ashton’s entire back was covered in one massive mole. At only nine months old, the surgeries to remove it began. Their hope was to get rid of all potentially cancerous spots before they could become problematic.
Unfortunately, the early work wasn’t enough. Ashton has been in and out of children’s’ hospitals his entire life to work on a number of issues, but he was ultimately diagnosed with melanoma. Now, he’s holding on as long as he can.
It’s a difficult thing for those around him to grasp. The pain is so unfair. What’s the reason? How is this just? Suffering in the innocent is impossible to rationalize.
But as much as those of us who meet him, know him and hear about him are sad for his pain and angry on behalf of him, Ashton himself shows no sign of anguish. The one person who has to feel the pain doesn’t seem all that bothered by it.
He’s just sitting at the table happily drinking a Coke at the game and blushing as he’s asked about the cheerleaders.
“You’d never know anything was wrong,” his mom said watching him. “He’s so happy. Like a normal kid.”
But Ashton isn’t a normal kid. He’s far greater than that. In a stadium surrounded by 60,000 people and on a field with 200 football players, Ashton is the strongest among us. Ashton is brave, beautiful and wonderfully alive as he waits for kickoff. In this moment, he is happy, and that’s all that matters right now.
He had something to give him joy in an otherwise difficult life, while his parents have something to hold on to. That MSU won is of little consequence, though Ashton must be happy to see his Bulldogs come out on top in his first game.