St. George, Utah - Light blue ribbons are everywhere. Pinned on t-shirts, tied around ponytails, fastened on red jerseys. They aren't good luck charms. No, these blue ribbons light up the Canyons Complex bleachers and infield for the player that squats behind home plate. Her name: Jocee Sparks.
The Seminole State (OK) Trojans arrived in St. George with a handful of hashtags and coordinated chants. They deserved to brag and strut their stuff; after all, the squad was touting a 51-2 record and held the #1 seed on the 2019 NJCAA DI Softball Championship bracket. Two days later, they've secured their spot in the quarterfinals going 2-0. But it isn't just about the wins; this group – fans and players alike – abides by pack mentality.
Yesterday marked six years since the death of Jocee Sparks' older brother, Talon; Six years since he was killed in an ATV accident at age 17. The Seminole State fans talk of him like they would their own son or brother. Even though he passed long before they met Jo, you can see their eyes soften and their voices praise the young man's heart and character. The catcher describes her brother as "a hero – to me and others – an athlete that dominated on the football field, and my best friend."
In fact, that's why she wears the number 70. It isn't a typical number in the softball world. It belongs with the 99s and 101s that you typically see before the middle school days weed the imagination down to numbers 1-24. It sticks out. That's exactly how Jocee likes it. She wants Talon's legacy to make a statement, just like his life.
"You've heard people say they play for the number on the back of their jersey. Well, that statement takes on a whole new meaning for me. I wear my brother's high school football number to carry him with me into battle. Every time I lace my cleats up and slip that jersey over my head, I play with pride and always remember to LIVE70. I forever carry your legacy with me, big brother," Jocee says with a smile and tear-filled blue eyes.
The 2019 Seminole State Softball team has lived by the hashtag #bebold all season long. Jocee takes that mission to heart. Just as her brother was strong in his faith and in his compassion for teammates and competitors alike, Jocee strives to lead the Lady Trojans with grace and strength.
Sparks and the Seminole State family plan to pin a piece of Talon and his legacy to a shiny piece of hardware on Saturday. No matter the outcome, Jocee oozes her gratitude to Coach Flores – who leads the Trojan Softball team – and her teammates for becoming her sisters. After all, blood doesn't always have to be red.