Kelly McDonald isn’t the loudest Mom in the stands. And she doesn’t know all the X’s and O’s of football. “I still don’t get the game,” she joked.
But she is always there, cheering on number 42.
Her son Kirk is a team captain and starting linebacker at Gateway High School. And watching him play his senior season of high school football? A dream come true, ten years in the making, as it was a different son who wore the number 42 a decade ago.
“Ten years ago Dre went to a house party in BVL (Buenaventura Lakes) and there was a fight that broke out. He was stabbed one single time in the heart,” said Kelly.
Kelly’s first-born son, De’Andre “Dre” Wellnitz, was killed at 17 years old. He never made it to his senior year.
“That’s the worst call any Mother can get. I actually made it to the hospital before the ambulance did,” said Kelly. “When they opened the doors, I saw them doing CPR on him and giving him adrenaline, and in that moment I knew. I fell down and I just started beating the garbage can and I was like God no.”
Kelly lost her son. 7-year old Kirk lost his idol.
When asked about how he found out, Kirk replied, “I just remember waking up the next morning and seeing my Mom crying. I didn’t know what was going on and they told me. I just broke down, I couldn’t believe it.”
One night changed their lives and shaped whom Kirk would grow up to be. All the way down to his brother’s name on his arm, and his brother’s number on his back.
It’s ten years later and the second of the siblings has taken the field.
Marlin Roberts was an assistant when Dre played for the Panthers. Now as the head coach, he has seen how Dre’s death has influenced Kirk.
“He’s like an old soul almost,” said Coach Roberts. “Sometimes you can just look at him and it’s like looking at a 40 something year old man in his eyes with the responsibility that he puts on himself.”
Kirk is going to do everything right. He refuses to make the choices that led to his own brother’s death – still unsolved to this day. Instead, he is focused, with a 3.5 GPA, and a part time job to help pay the bills at home.
“It’s definitely changed my whole life. Every day is a blessing,” said Kirk.
Mom couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s like getting a second chance. And getting the chance that you never had the first chance,” said Kelly.
“You don’t want to say you are living through another child but in a sense there is some of that. Dre lives through him. I think he wants to carry that legacy to say this is who we are.”