Column: On wings like Eagles: Ray’s legacy continues to soar

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, September 13, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

Every day, we are surrounded by images of eagles.

These majestic animals have become a national symbol of strength and patriotism, appear throughout religious imagery and they adorn the halls of many high schools around the country as one of the most popular mascots in the nation.

But what is an eagle? What draws us to them throughout time? What do they represent for us? And most importantly, what is the spirit of an eagle, and how can someone carry that?

Brayden Ray was a shining example of just that.

Ray tragically passed in a car crash on Sunday, Sept. 3 at just 15 years old. He not only attended Calera High School, but played on the football team as a sophomore wide receiver.

While covering Calera’s first home volleyball match since his passing, I saw Calera’s ceremony prior to the JV match honoring Ray. The first trait that the speaker said that Ray had was that he was “an Eagle.”

The sign on display next to his jersey elaborated more on what it means to be an eagle.

“An Eagle has fierce determination and unwavering focus. As Eagles, we must be willing to spread our wings and soar into the unknown even in the face of strong winds. Eagles fearlessly face challenges, confront them head-on, and embrace difficult situations with courage and endurance.”

Ray was all of these things and more, as the stories from his friends and family have shown.

In addition, eagles care for those around them, and that is exactly what Ray displayed. Family and friends described him as a loving person who cared deeply for the people he loved.

In turn, we have seen the same love and care from the Calera community that he was a member of. The Eagles honored him prior to the first football game after his death with a 29-second moment of silence to match his jersey number and by painting the center of the field with #BRay. Calera’s captains walked out to midfield for the coin toss holding his jersey. Signs and jerseys with the number 29 lined the field and stands.

There is no doubt that Brayden Ray was an eagle, but that is because he grew up in a town full of them.

The city of Calera was rocked by this loss, but they embraced this difficult situation with courage and endurance, just like Ray’s sign read that eagles do. The outpouring of support from the community has been evident as they stand strong even in the wake of loss, soaring into the unknown even in the face of strong winds.

Over the last few years, I have gotten to know the Calera community well. As a result, I knew Calera would be deeply hurt by this loss. I also knew that they would not be shaken by it because of how tight-knit the town is.

The city of Calera is surrounded by images of Eagles. While that may be because Calera High School’s mascot is the Eagle, over this past week, I have come to believe that there is a deeper reason.

Sometimes, a mascot and the school and community that it represents are a perfect match. Calera has more than earned the right to call themselves the Eagles, because that is exactly what the spirit of Calera is and exactly the kind of person that Brayden Ray was.