Joseph Meador draped the silver chain over his right shoulder, let it slide down his arm and caught it with his fingers as he pointed toward the heavens above the Braden River High football field. Then Meador kissed the chain, tugged it back over his shoulder and made his way across the field as he shook hands with members of the Bayshore football team Friday night.
“I was praying to Coach Garrity,” said Meador, a senior defensive back for Braden River. “I knew he was here with us tonight.”
After the Pirates’ 39-0 victory, Braden River assistant coach Chris Valcarcel told Meador to “grab a piece” — take hold of the chain that has become the symbol of Braden River’s first-ever playoff appearance last fall.
The chain was the idea of the defensive coaches, Valcarcel, Doug Garrity, Chad Choate and Mark Rupprecht. At first it was 11 links, one for each player on defense. It meant they were only as strong as the weakest link.
Seventeen more links were added, and Garrity could be seen wearing the chain around his neck last season as he roamed the sideline on Friday nights.
Now the chain is a symbol of something more, of someone’s life.
Now it means the Braden River football team will be forever linked with the Garrity family. It means that Garrity, who was 27 when he was killed last March when the SUV he was riding in crashed on Interstate 75, will forever be part of the Braden River football program.
“That’s the main thing about the chain,” Meador said. “It reminds us of Coach Garrity, that his presence will always be with us in the locker room and on the field.”
The chain Valcarcel wore around his neck for most of Friday night — the one Valcarcel gave to cornerback Mick Olitsky after Sharrod Neasman-Glover’s first-quarter punt return for a touchdown, the one Meador carried after the game — is not the original chain.
The original was returned to the Braden River Pirates before the game by Garrity’s parents, John and Dehlia.
“It was time,” John Garrity said.
After the shock of Doug Garrity’s death subsided a bit, the Braden River players and coaches decided to give the chain to the Garritys. Defensive linemen Ty Williams and Casey Hunt presented the Garritys with the chain at their son’s viewing. They intended for the chain to be buried with their coach and friend.
But John and Dehlia took the chain home and hung it on the wall over their fireplace.
It was a reminder of their son, a reminder of the impact he had during his short time as a coach with the Braden River Pirates.
“His enthusiasm was off the charts,” said Hunt. “It was at another level. I can’t go a day on the football field without thinking about him, that’s for sure.”
In April, the Garritys traveled to New Port Richey for the high school state weight-lifting tournament. John and Dehlia passed it back and forth as they watched Braden River’s Tevin Bryant win the school’s first-ever state title in any sport.
Ben Barnes, whose son Trevor is one of the captains of the football team, was with the Garritys that afternoon and noted, “That chain looks awful heavy.”
Barnes had the idea of making a plaque to recognize the Pirates’ success in 2008 and memorialize Doug Garrity at the same time. The plaque was presented to the school before Friday’s game against Bayshore. At the top was room for the chain, which now outlines a picture of Doug Garrity, who is shown wearing the chain around his neck.
The plaque carries this inscription: “The chain that holds us together through victory and adversity.”
“The team knew how much that chain meant to us,” John Garrity said. “The gave it to us so it could give us support. That chain gave us strength through the last six months. Toward the end it was starting to get very heavy. I told my wife, ‘We can’t keep this. We need to give it back to the boys.’ ”
The ceremony was held before Friday’s game because Doug Garrity was a 2000 graduate of Bayshore High. Some of his teammates and coaches were on hand for the presentation.
“It means a lot to get it back,” Olitsky said. “It makes us feel he (Doug Garrity) is with us. It means the Garritys are here for us, and we’re here for them.”
After the game, the Braden River players and coaches huddled near the 50-yard line and the Garritys returned to the field. This time, the Pirates were the presenters. Head coach Ed Volz presented John and Dehlia with the victory’s game ball. The boys then presented them with their own chains.
“This gives us closure,” John Garrity said, wearing his as he walked out of the stadium.
Because of all it stands for, he was asked, was it hard to give the chain back?
“No,” John Garrity said, “because it’s back where it belongs.”