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Released August 17, 2004

Scholarship winner thankful for opportunity to finish education

By Angela Cutrer

HATTIESBURG - Brianna Spell's wide eyes dart around the crowded room as tolerant would-be patients line up to a single table with an imposing nurse standing guard. Spell - a self-proclaimed blonde-but-really-a-redhead athlete - watches as the nurse grills the crowd.

"Do you have diabetes? Back pain? Headaches? Heart problems?" The nurse serenely interrogates each member of the crowd in line, his or her clutched paperwork already filled out properly (they hoped).

"You checked 'yes' here. Explain." The nurse pushes it back to one woman, who whips out a pen and quickly corrects her admission. She hands it back to the nurse with anticipation.

"Good." The nurse's smile is radiant as she retrieves the paperwork. The room itself seems to sigh in relief as the nurse hands the woman a test tube and points to the blood donation table. Crowd members beam at this development - another one on her way, meaning they are one more closer to their turn.

Even the young, nervous Brianna Spell smiles, though it's all a part of a serious state of affairs played out at Hattiesburg Clinic's bone marrow drive Monday, when members of the community took off one afternoon to donate blood to be a possible match for someone in need; someone like Dave Freeman--the cause of all this togetherness.

"It's really something," he says during the bone marrow drive, as people stop to shake his hand and tell him they are praying for him. Freeman, a Southern Miss graduate who works as an athletic trainer for Hattiesburg Clinic, can't get the look of appreciation off of his face. Just this past June he found out he is in need of a bone marrow transplant to fight the multiple myeloma developing inside his body. Since then, he's been amazed at the support from co-workers, students, church members, and now, at this drive, the community.

He looks over at Brianna Spell, 23, the first recipient of the Big Dave Athletic Training Scholarship, a fund generously set up by a donation from an anonymous Hattiesburg Clinic physician so that others might do the same kind of work Freeman is famous for doing. The young girl is still a bit in awe at the people in the room, the reason they have gathered and the purpose of it all. Mostly, she is in awe of the wonderful opportunity that came out of tragedy.

"This scholarship allows me to finish my senior year without having a gap in my education," Spell says. "I wanted so much to finish, and now I'm going to be able to, all because of this." In this one day, she met with Freeman, a television crew, staff members and Freeman's co-workers.

Spell, the daughter of Lt. Cmdr. Martin Spell and Ann Spell of Collins, attended Prentiss Christian School and is in the third year of her work toward becoming an athletic trainer (with a minor in dance). To win the scholarship, she wrote an essay about her financial need and her dreams for the future.

"I want to be a trainer for extreme sports, like motocross, skateboarding, snowboarding, and trick riding. I figure it takes as much athleticism (in those sports) as it does for a basketball or a tennis player," she says, losing her shyness as her eyes shine and her shoulders pull back taller. She says if the X Games route doesn't work out, she would like to work for a dance company. "I've always been an alternative kind of kid."

She thinks a great deal of Freeman and of the anonymous donor. "I appreciate this gift so much because it allows me to concentrate on my education and our athletes rather than on my financial situation," she says. "It's just wonderful."

Later on, donors move around the room like performers on a stage fraught with many tables and chairs. Some fill out paperwork, others look up to see old friends, and many murmur their good wishes about Freeman. Hattiesburg Clinic's communications coordinator Jennifer Venditti stands at the door, greeting the incoming and thanking those leaving with Band-Aid badges of courage stuck to the inside of their elbows. While Kristy Gould, a development officer with Southern Miss, sits at a table talking to those interested in the scholarship, the medical professionals collecting the blood donations use time wisely to ease the fears of those who dislike needles, no matter the good cause. Potential donors sit casually in white chairs, waiting their turn. Freeman himself is here somewhere, probably chatting with a buddy.

And Brianna Spell? She's in line, waiting for the nurse to tell her what she needs to do next to get one of those badges herself.


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September 1, 2004 2:16 PM