Although the outcome on the scoreboard was not what anyone had hoped, there was a silver lining to the day on Saturday as country music superstar Neal McCoy paid a surprise visit to Nelson Field in support of his good friend and Big Red’s senior percussionist, Spencer Lay. This story is to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how today’s visit went from an idea a few months ago to reality this afternoon.
First, here is a little background between Neal and the Lay family. As most of you know, Neal has been a close friend to Spencer and the Lay family in general for quite some time. Spencer has been brought up on stage at Jamboree in the Hills more than once. Spencer and Neal keep in regular contact and Neal is always sure to keep tabs on Spencer to see how he is doing. Spencer’s sister, Gabrielle Santinoceto, is also friends with McCoy’s son, Swayde. That’s where today’s story begins.
Gabrielle realized about 3-4 months ago that Neal would be playing a show at the Capitol Theatre in Wheeling this evening. She called Swayde and then eventually called Neal because she had an idea. Gabrielle mentioned to Neal that this would be Spencer’s senior year and they shared together how Spencer has grown in the band over the years. She shared with Neal how Spencer has marched with his Aunt Heather every season since 7th-grade but finally felt comfortable enough this season to march alone on the field. Neal quickly agreed to the idea of coming to Nelson Field for Saturday’s game to surprise Spencer. The idea had been hatched but now keeping the secret was the hard part. Here’s how we did it.
About 2-3 weeks before Saturday’s game, I was approached by Spencer’s parents, Travis and Jennifer Lay, and told about this idea. They asked if I would talk to Mr. Sherwood and make sure that we could make today happen. Mr. Sherwood was more than gracious. He replied, “As long as it doesn’t interfere with the playing of the game on the field, you guys can do whatever you want.” With his blessing, we went to work. There were a few people who now needed to be included in on the secret to enlist their help.
First was Bellaire legend BeeBee Maranacci. We worked it out with him that he would meet Neal at the bus garage when he arrived at the game. Neal was picked up at the Capitol Theatre by Gabrielle. The next person to be brought into the web of secrecy was Coach Spig. We had to make sure he was aware what was going to happen so as not to be caught off-guard as the game was being played. We also wanted to ensure that Spencer’s brother and current football player, Konnor Lay, would be able to stay out on the field at halftime for the festivities. Next was Mr. McAfee because, well, he’s the principal and you just don’t try to pull something like this off without letting the boss know.
Neal and Spencer’s parents talked at some point last week and Neal said he simply wanted to watch the halftime show and perhaps address the crowd to say a few words about Spencer and that was it. He stressed in the week leading up to the game that he didn’t want to upstage Spencer or the band. When I approached Neal at the end of the first quarter to introduce myself as the guy who would introduce him to the crowd, his first words to me are indicative of the type of person Neal is in my opinion. He simply stated, “Listen, I’m only going to say a few words. My show is over in Wheeling tonight. This is their show. I’m not here to upstage them.” The rest they say is history.
I also was in contact with Julianne Pelusi of Channel 9, Caroline Peters of Channel 7 and Seth Staskey/Rick Thorp of the Times Leader to make sure they had the access they wanted/needed to be able to give today the type of media coverage it deserved. A big thank you to the four of them for their efforts to chronicle Spencer’s special day.
All in all, today will go near or at the top of the list for me since my move back to the All-American Town. What a great day to be a Big Red!
P.S. Also attached to this article are pics of Spencer on-stage at Neal’s concert on Saturday evening.
All photos courtesy of PSK Photography. One of their photographers who took some of these shots is senior Tenley Hughes. Great pictures Tenley!