Justin Thomas

Grieving Peyton Thomas, Satsuma face No. 1 Andalusia with heavy hearts

The Satsuma football team – and especially the team’s starting running back – will be playing with a heavy heart when the Gators host Class 4A No. 1 Andalusia on Friday.

Peyton Thomas’ mother, Lawanda, died earlier this week after a lengthy battle with breast cancer. Peyton is a 16-year-old sophomore.

Gators’ coach Justin Thomas said Peyton will play in Friday’s game.

“It will be emotional for sure,” Justin Thomas said. “Peyton is one of our starting running backs. Ms. Thomas was one of our biggest fans. There will be a lot of tears shed I’m sure this week.”

Thomas said he has ordered pink ribbons with Lawanda Thomas’ initials on them for the Gators to wear on the back of their helmets this week. It will also be a “pink out” game in her honor.

Lawanda Thomas was hospitalized last week as her condition deteriorated, Justin Thomas said. Still, Peyton played in last week’s 30-14 win over Escambia County – the Gators’ second straight win.

“Peyton played Friday with a heavy heart,” coach Thomas said. “He played for her. We played for her. At the end of the game when I was talking to the team, Peyton was just pouring tears. I told the boys he would need them more than they could ever imagine for the immediate future.”

Ms. Thomas died early Tuesday morning.

Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday.

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The school and community has joined together to try and help pay for the funeral arrangements and support the family. Thomas was a single mother who exhausted most of her income fighting the disease. Peyton’s father is not in the picture, according to Justin Thomas. He has a disabled 34-year-old brother, who already takes care of his aging grandmother.

“Peyton is an excellent young man who already doesn’t have a father,” said Marlon Wade, who has a son on the Satsuma team and also is a part of Listen 17 Ministries. “I’ve been working with him for the past year or two. He’s a young man who relied heavily on his mom, and his mom was a huge supporter.

“He would play church league basketball games and there was one person in the stands, and it would be Lawanda Thomas. That is the kind of relationship they had and the kind of love she had for her son. Her only concern as she knew her life was coming to an end was who would take care of Peyton.”

Wade and Justin Thomas both promised her that would not be an issue.

“I don’t know what the custody situation is going to look like,” Wade said. “Peyton is more than welcome to come live with me. We just want to make sure his mother’s wishes are granted, and he stays on the right track.

“God puts certain people in your life for a reason. I know I have been placed in Peyton’s life for a reason. This is a phenomenal athlete. I think that can be a road to college for him, but we’ve all heard stories of kids getting off track before they get to that point. We want to keep Peyton moving in the right direction.”

Justin Thomas said the family moved to Satsuma from north Mobile about two and a half years ago. He said Ms. Thomas battled cancer for two years and beat it. However after a year or so in remission, the cancer returned.

“She called me one morning and I was dropping my kids off coming to work,” Justin Thomas said. “She was crying and said they had done a scan and cancer had been discovered in the other breast. I think she made like 60 trips to UAB. It absolutely depleted the family. She was a nurse who worked side jobs and didn’t ask for any help. She didn’t want handouts and never asked for them. But this is a family who needs help now.”

The immediate need is to cover funeral expenses, and it must be met quickly.

“We’ve had a lot of the community stepping up,” Wade said. “But we need $6,300 by Saturday, and it has to be paid before the start the funeral. We are just hoping maybe a large number of people will be called to deliver a small amount of money each to help cover the cost. That being said, we have three days. We hope the football game Friday will be a big opportunity, but that is kind of waiting for the fifth hour.”

A gofundme account has been set up by the Satsuma QB Club to help raise money for the funeral. Donations also can be made to Satsuma High School to the attention of coach Thomas. The Gators also are hoping to raffle off several items at Friday’s football game in order to help with expenses.

Coach Thomas said he was moved by watching the battle Ms. Thomas waged against the disease.

“She got real sick last year,” he said. “We didn’t know how long she would survive after the football season. We played St. James in Montgomery in the playoffs, and some friends were able to get her to that game. Peyton scored a touchdown. We really thought that would probably be the last game she saw him play.

“He went up in the stands and gave his mom the game ball. A lot of boys signed it. We got a good picture of them. She kept fighting that is for sure. She loved her children.”

The last game Ms. Thomas attended this year was the Gators’ 20-14 loss to Leroy on Sept. 1.

“Peyton feels like an orphan,” Justin Thomas said. “It’s a tough, tough situation. Ms. Thomas and I had conversations about who would take care of him. I promised her we would make sure Peyton is taking care of. For right now, I think he will stay with his brother. He also is able to stay with Mr. Wade and I.

“He’s a great kid. He’s a guy you don’t have to worry about at all in class. He’s really had to mature a lot faster than most 15 or 16 year olds. I know he’s scared. We will keep supporting and loving on him.”