Feb 08, 2013 (The Fayetteville Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Veronica Smalls had seen that emotional look in her son Bernard Jr.'s eyes before.
It was the same kind of troubled look that was present when Fayetteville Christian's football team observed senior night this past season, and Bernard Sr. couldn't be there to watch his son play for the Warrior football team.
Now the look was back, as Fayetteville Christian wanted to hold a signing ceremony to celebrate Bernard Jr. casting his football lot with Mars Hill for the next four years. And they wanted to hold it on Wednesday, national signing day, when the majority of the nation's high school stars would take up pen and put their names on paper and realize the dreams of years of hard work by committing to the colleges of their choice.
But Veronica Smalls knew this just wasn't right. And she could see it on the face of Bernard Jr.
Because once again, Bernard Sr. wasn't going to be there. And this was a special moment. A very special one. Once in a lifetime. One that Bernard Sr. needed to share. Not with a picture sent by email. Not with an Internet phone call via Skype. He needed to be there.
"He made it a point to put it off," Veronica Smalls said of Bernard Jr., a star running back for Fayetteville Christian. "He wanted his dad to experience it because he had waited so long to do it."
And so plans were changed. The signing was postponed. Flights were arranged.
And CSM Bernard Smalls Sr. worked it out to return to Fayetteville from his assignment as garrison command sergeant in Stuttgart, Germany, and arrive in Fayetteville Wednesday night so he could be here today and see his son sign his national letter-of-intent to play football for Mars Hill.
It's a small reward for a man who has given 26 years of his life to the service of his country in assignments around the world from Korea to Kansas to Fort Knox.
And this is one time, one special time, he won't miss out on a major moment in the life of his son, and won't have to rely on a Skype call or a video mailed by his wife to let him see what he missed.
He gives her much of the credit for holding the family together during all of those times he had to be away in service to his country.
"I consider my wife to be the true warrior," Bernard Sr. said. "She was like a single parent. She had to raise the kids, go to work, make sure the homework was done."
Veronica said her biggest challenge was being there for two sons, Bernard Jr. and Brandon, who were both active in sports.
"Only having one parent in the home, I didn't want them to feel like I wasn't there for them," she said. "I probably missed one game for Bernard since he was five."
As for the recruiting process with Bernard Jr., the big challenge was keeping him focused on academics and choosing a school not just for football. "Like I tell him, one injury and you're out," she said. "I made him realize you don't have to be Division I as long as you have a school that offers good academic programs."
Bernard Jr. said both his parents helped him make the right decisions on where to go to college. "They are my biggest critics," he said. "The best thing is being yourself."
When Bernard Jr. signs his letter today, Bernard Sr. said it will be the culmination of a dream his son has had since he was a child.
"My wife and I told him you've got to go for your dream," Bernard Sr. said. "We told him to let no one deter you from your dream. Don't give up. He continued to do that and made me a proud parent."
And he's an equally pround son.
Scholastic sports editor Earl Vaughan Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3519.
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