Over the course of his 21 years of living, Steven Hunter had a big heart that was evident during his career as a standout tennis player for Portsmouth High School and Milligan College in the Elizabethton, Tenn. area.
His heart, however, was even bigger when it came to taking care of those in need.
And while Hunter has been gone for over 12 years now, the memory of that heart lives on in several significant ways.
On Saturday afternoon, one of the most significant results of the proactive mindsets of Steven’s parents, Mark and Virgie Hunter, along with the help of generous volunteers such as Blair and Joy Copen, took place once again on Saturday afternoon as the 2018 Flag Football for a Cause Game took place on the Trojan Coliseum turf at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth.
For Mark and Joy, the event is one that is truly a blessing to be able to put on every year, especially when one considers the help that comes from the individuals who feel it is best to honor Steven’s presence by displaying kindness and compassion to their fellow friends and the youngsters who took part in or watched the festivities.
“It keeps growing and growing,” Copen said. “Even with this being a holiday week, you see that we have a great turnout, and we couldn’t be more blessed with the weather conditions. I believe that the event has grown in awareness, which has really helped with the program. It’s really just about promoting a good cause and having a good time.”
“It’s fantastic,” Hunter said. “Blair and Joy came up with this idea a few years ago. A lot of these guys come from a ways away to the point where some of these guys are giving up an entire Saturday just to participate. They love the event, though, and they love that it helps the kids. I also believe that they enjoy the camaraderie that the event that has come about because of the event.”
Much of that camaraderie, however, is developed off of the belief of Steven’s life and the way that he lived. A 2003 graduate of PHS, Hunter was able to continue his tennis career at Milligan, where Hunter, who aspired to be an attorney, was a fan of the simple lifestyle, according to the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund website.
Hunter, however, didn’t get the chance to see that lifestyle through. On January 18, 2006, Hunter, while participating in a practice with the Milligan tennis unit, collapsed. He was pronounced deceased later that day.
But while Steven’s life had ended, his parents knew that the fight to preserve Steven’s unselfish mindset was just beginning.
Within the month, Mark and Virgie, off of the strength of helping a litany of students obtain shoes, clothes and additional needs by asking for donations of those goods rather than flowers that are customary at funerals, had founded the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund, all according to Freestore Foodbank.
“Steven was such a compassionate young man and a good boy,” Hunter said. “He always wanted to help people and help children, from simply giving them a coat to giving them lunch money.”
Still, both Mark and Virgie sensed a growing feeling that they weren’t doing enough.
In January 2010, the duo partnered with Freestore Foodbank by distributing 90 Power Packs across the Portsmouth City School District realm.
“After doing some research, we realized that we could connect with Freestore Foodbank, who had the Power Packs Program,” Hunter said. “We met with them, set up some arrangements, and by the third week of January, we started out distributing 90 Power Packs to the Portsmouth City School District.”
Those Power Packs, which have since become known to Portsmouth residents as Steven’s Power Packs, have proven to be widely popular. In 2013, the Copen family helped get the Flag Football for a Cause event off of the ground, and, since that time, have proceeded to contribute to the ever-growing total of 19 schools and 1,312 Steven’s Power Packs in all.
“The fact that they’ve turned a tragedy into something so wonderful for those kids in need is something really special,” Copen said. “They really wanted people to know about Steven’s legacy and how willing he was as far as helping people was concerned. He was, from what I understand, an amazing young man who always wanted to help people. He just had a big heart full of compassion. They wanted to carry that on in some way.”
“It’s been unbelievable,” Hunter said. “God’s really blessed us and the community has been awesome.”
The turnout, not only inside the community lines but outside of them, has been outstanding as well.
Former Ironton-to-Ohio State standouts Jermon Jackson and Tyler Whaley participated in the game and donated to the cause by doing so, as did Jordan Hall and Chris Fields. Corey Allison, who assists as a basketball coach within the New Boston boys basketball program, also participated and donated. Morehead State University’s cheerleading squad, which has won 43 Universal Cheer Association National Championships and two this past year, also participated in cheering sessions with aspiring young cheerleaders their junior, and Portsmouth football coaches Bruce Kalb and Gerald Cadougan were also in attendance at the event. Individuals from the Valley Local School District also volunteered, with many of them setting up the dinner that was enjoyed after the scrimmage at Temple Baptist Church.
In addition to the amount of people that participated in the event itself, several different business, including McKinley Funeral Home, Edward Jones Insurance, Farmer’s Insurance, Splash-N-Go Car Wash, Kroger, Southern Ohio Medical Center, Toro Loco, ZombieCorp, and the Elks Country Club, along with Shane DeSimone, Neil Hatcher, Dr. Dominic McKinley, Julie Stamper, George Copen, and the Clark, Copen, Horr, Horsley, Ramey, Rolfe, Rowland, and Spear Families, all donated to the cause among many others.
“It’s really amazing to see the different people from the different communities in our area coming out to support Steven and his parents,” Copen said. “There’s 13 different schools across the county, and we have representation from most of them. For them to come together and help feed our kids is amazing.”
That, however, is the power of the legacy that Steven Hunter has left behind, whose memories still follow us around Earth as if his physical presence is still very much alive.
“Even when these kids were getting free and reduced lunches, some of those kids weren’t getting much to eat, if anything else to eat, over the remaining part of the day,” Hunter said, recalling memories of kids that Steven helped when he was living. “Steven doing what he did basically gave those kids a second meal. His heart was in the right place. So we knew that when he passed, we had to do something.”