Montevallo joins together in remembrance of Barrett Dempsey

Published 8:36 pm Thursday, February 15, 2024

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By NOAH WORTHAM | Managing Editor

MONTEVALLO – As students and athletes walked through the doors to the University of Montevallo’s Student Activity Center, there was a silent heaviness that was carried throughout the building into the Central State Bank Arena. Friends and classmates arrived at a candlelight vigil on Feb. 13 wearing UM athletics shirts in support of Barrett Dempsey, who affected the lives of so many of his classmates.

A flame was passed from student to student, flickering in the dark gym as attendees silently reflected on Dempsey’s memory. It is clear that, despite spending only a little less than year at UM, he had already touched the lives of so many.

Dempsey, a UM freshman and wrestling athlete, died on Sunday, Feb. 11 while traveling back to Montevallo from his hometown of Byhalia, Mississippi. Only two days later, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, students and athletes gathered together in the very gym the wrestling team would have been wrestling in to instead hold a candlelight vigil in honor and celebration of his life.

“We are a hurting family right now, and our wrestling team is hurting,” said Mark Richard, vice president for athletics and special programs at UM. “We were supposed to be here tonight watching a wrestling match with a packed gym, with lots of excitement but we’re here celebrating Barrett’s life.”

Dempsey was a member of Montevallo’s inaugural wrestling team, which was in the home stretch of its first season. During his time with the team, Dempsey made a positive and lasting impression on his fellow athletes—a mark that was made clear when Richard shared the unfortunate news with the team.

“I can tell when the news broke and what happened to our team, I could just see the impact Barrett had, not only on our team but on the student-athletes,” Richard said.

Dempsey embodied what it meant to be a true student-athlete, as he participated in eight matches for the Falcons during his freshman season, while also studying with a major in political science.

“He was an amazing individual (and) he had an uplifting spirit with him every single day,” said Daniel Ownbey, head wrestling coach at UM. “He gave us everything he had, on or off the mat and in the classroom. He was by far one our hardest workers doing everything he could to get better. He was definitely one of my favorite athletes I’ve ever coached and it was an honor to get to know him.”

During the vigil, students came forward and spoke on the positive influence Dempsey had in their lives—sharing personal anecdotes and remarking on the passing moments that now mean so much more.

River Scruggs, who was a friend and a fellow wrestling teammate, stood before those in attendance shared that he found comfort during this time in his friend’s faith, as Dempsey had been regularly studying the Bible and keeping notes before his death.

“He wrote that ‘God’s plan is unexpected and it doesn’t align with everybody else’s plans,’” Scruggs said. “It wasn’t planned for him to get in that car accident, but he touched every one of our lives and I know that he’s in heaven because I know that his faith was strong.”

As those in attendance blew out their candles and as walked out of the building, the hole in their hearts left by their friend and teammate was not repaired, but his memory and the importance of his presence while he was here was all the more clearer.