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Kay Stallings was a faithful resident of the Pirate
Nation, but he was never the type of fan to focus solely on the action
on the field or on the purple and gold alone.
Once, on a trip to West Virginia with friends to watch
the East Carolina football team play the Mountaineers, Stallings
suggested that they stop at a local high school football game, just to
soak in the atmosphere and experience something new in sports.
Last June 3, Stallings could have followed the majority
of ECU followers out of Boshamer Stadium as they found their cars and
headed home, another postseason ended with an NCAA Regional loss for the
Pirates. He was disappointed that his favorite team fell 5-3 to the Tar
Heels, but Stallings saw the crisp blue sky, felt the breeze and
resolved that, defeat aside, it was still a perfect baseball day. He
decided to stay to watch the next game — North Carolina vs. St. John’s.
Keith Taylor, one of Stallings’ closest friends and his
companion at countless Pirate sporting events, decided not to hang
around with Stallings. He has often wondered how things might have been
different if he had. He is confident that if both men had stayed, they
would have remained in the seats they had occupied during the ECU game.
Once Taylor left, though, Stallings opted to move down to
a vacant seat in one of the St. John’s sections. The seat was in section
103, the first section along the first-base line not protected by a net.
As was his habit, Stallings would have become acquainted
with the occupants of the nearby seats, chatting with them about
hometowns and team loyalties. Stallings was a student of the world and a
student of people, and every game was a chance to connect with someone.
He loved East Carolina,” his daughter Brooke Barksdale
said. “He loved sports. Sports was his life — playing it, watching it,
talking about it. In football, he followed recruits. He knew everything
about them. And he loved people. He had a very good memory. He always
knew who people were, where they were from.
He loved his family, loved his kids and his grandkids.”
continues after the following picture...
Kay Stallings and six-year-old grandson
Andy. (Submitted by Brooke Barksdale)
“Kay was a walking encyclopedia,” Taylor said. “He was a
big reader. He was very bright and very curious.”
Because the fans seated around him later described
talking with Stallings, Taylor has wondered if his friend even saw the
foul ball coming. A witness later said that he did seem to duck, but he
was unable to avoid the fast-moving ball.
The baseball struck Stallings in the right eye. He was
taken to UNC Hospitals, where doctors treated a myriad of injuries — a
crushed eye socket, fractured facial bones, a blood clot and
hemorrhaging in the brain and a cut to the eye area requiring stitches.
was released four days later, but returned to the hospital a few days
after that because of blood clots in his lungs.
What followed was a three-month medical rollercoaster
that included a pulmonary embolism, a second hematoma and intermittent
periods of optimism and concern.
In August, Kay was feeling good enough to plan a trip to
Greenville for the season-opening football game on Sept. 1. His friend
Jim Brooks, who lived near Stallings’ home in Burlington, was going to
give him a ride.
continues after the following picture...
Kay and Andy pose with a familiar
landmark in the heart of the Pirate Nation.
(Submitted by Brooke Barksdale)
Kay Stallings never made it back to Pirate Country. He
went back into the hospital on the day before that football game, and he
died on September 13 of a brain aneurysm.
Doctors initially questioned whether his cause of death
was related to the injury at Boshamer Stadium, but this spring a second
medical examiner reviewed his records and amended his death certificate
to indicate that the hit from the baseball started Stallings’ tragic
So healthy and energetic was Stallings that Taylor,
nearly 15 years his junior, often had to remind himself that he was
younger than his friend. Stallings was “vibrant,” Taylor said, full of
adventure and always willing to take in another game.
Stallings (his given name was Lazarus King; he preferred
the nickname Kay) wasn’t a lifelong ECU fan. He actually attended
Appalachian State and Barton College on tennis scholarships (he and his
twin brother Ray were state doubles champions out of Goldsboro High
School in 1962). Ray was the one who went to ECU to play tennis back in
the ‘60s, but Kay didn’t really adopt the Pirates until 20 years ago,
when his younger daughter Brooke came to Greenville for college.
“He had some buddies that, they would go together and go
to out of town games, and he got involved in the Pirate Club, which
added to his interest,” said Ray Stallings. “He was close to the
football team particularly, but he enjoyed going to the baseball games
When he was working — Stallings spent 25 years as a
middle school physical education teacher in Kernersville before retiring
in 2009 — it was difficult for him to make many baseball games, so he
focused on football, Barksdale said.
But in recent years Stallings developed a strong loyalty
to the Diamond Bucs as well.
In the days after his injury, both ECU coach Billy Godwin
and North Carolina coach Mike Fox checked in on Stallings at the
hospital, and all of the family members emphasized how much Godwin did
during that tough time to support and encourage one of his best fans.
Godwin had issued a standing invitation to Kay for a guided tour of
Clark-LeClair Stadium, but that was a tour he never got the chance to
Kay had three websites stored on Brooke’s computer –
Bonesville and two ECU message boards. The Pirate Nation was a real
community and a passion for Stallings.
the baseball postseason approaches, his friends and family members are
sure that he would cherish the chance to be remembered by fellow fans
who most certainly would have become friends if they could have had the
good fortune to take in a game next to Kay Stallings.