By Morgan Bryce
Opelika’s senior holder, wide receiver and special teams player Tristan Black was the winner of this year’s Mike Spain Character Award, an annual recognition given to the player whose on-and-off-the-field contributions expand past the gridiron and into their school and community.
The award’s namesake Mike Spain was a beloved history teacher in the Opelika school system for more than 30 years and was an avid supporter of Opelika athletics. In September 2005, Spain passed away from a two-year bout with cancer. Coach Brian Blackmon said Spain’s passion for the school, students and athletic programs was something he will always remember.
“Mike Spain loved our school, he loved our students and he loved all of our programs. He was a guy that, if you needed someone to work the gate at a track meet, he was there … if you needed somebody to just talk to a kid and encourage them, he was that guy,” Blackmon said. “He was very influential … and was a part of anything that went on here at the school.”
The winner of the Mike Spain Award is voted on by the Opelika coaching staff, and Blackmon said Black’s work ethic, big heart and motivation to give back played major factors in their decision to choose him.
“Tristan is a very hard worker and a consistent kid. He was always one of the first ones here and one of the last ones to leave,” Blackmon said. “He was very involved in the (Dominant Dawg) community service program, which challenges our kids to be more involved in the community. He was just a kid, with no matter what you challenged him to do, he does it with a joyful heart.”
Assistant football coach Ben Landers, who helps coordinate the Dominant Dawg program, said Black and other seniors were offered a myriad of community service opportunities. Events ranged from team members taking visits to Storybook Farm and working with mentally and physically disabled children, or helping set up events like the Think Pink Walk and Garden in the Park. Landers said Black was a heavy participant in the program, and said he constantly displayed humility and strong devotion while serving others.
“Whenever you’d ask him to get something done, he’d get it done. If he saw something that needed to be done, you wouldn’t have to ask him to do it. He’s wise beyond his years,” Landers said.
Black received the recognition during the team’s award banquet on Jan. 5, and said he thinks the honor reflects his strong work ethic and desire to give back.
“I think winning this award shows that I always try to do the right thing, I’m always going to work hard, and I’m going to give my all no matter where I am, whether it’s on the field or in the classroom,” Black said.
Black said his favorite moments from playing at Opelika include the three-year winning streak against archrival Auburn, and the Bulldogs’ run to a state championship game. However, he said some of his favorite memories are from his football days are some of the volunteer projects that he participated in, which he said were eye-opening experiences.
“It really humbles you … it really shows how blessed you are and how big of a platform you have in the community. After a while, you come to realize you’re not just playing for yourself – you’re playing for those who aren’t able to do it or aren’t blessed with the gifts that you are,” Black said.
Black said his plans are to enjoy the rest of his senior year, and compete and succeed during track season. He will either attend Auburn or Troy this fall, pursuing a degree in accounting and sports management.