The Bradsher Beat
Thursday, May 9, 2013

By Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher

It was a life well lived for fallen Pirate

By Bethany Bradsher
All Rights Reserved.

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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.”

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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.

Stallings 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.

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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 domino effect.

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 as well.”

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 lead.

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.

As 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.

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05/08/2013 11:40 PM