All around the upper gymnasium inside the Rollins-Luetkemeyer Athletic Center at McDonogh early Thursday evening, some 50 youngsters were coached through exercises by members of the Maryland football team and first-year coach Michael Locksley’s staff.
All of them came to have some fun toward the end of what had been a difficult day for Jordan McNair’s parents, teammates and Locksley on the first anniversary of the offensive lineman’s death, 15 days after the 19-year-old suffered heatstroke during a team conditioning drill.
The Jordan McNair Health and Wellness Sports Clinic, which followed a similar community program earlier in the day at a Washington public school, was held by the Jordan McNair Foundation to both honor the former McDonogh star’s memory, but also to help educate youngsters and their families about the dangers of and treatment for heatstroke.
“To be honest, my grieving process really kind of goes into our foundation work. That’s how it usually works for me,” said Martin McNair, Jordan’s father. “It’s a very bittersweet day. However, I think this is our way of giving back to the community and this is what we want to do as far as keeping Jordan’s legacy alive.
“It’s an emotional day just the same.”
Martin McNair and Tonya Wilson, Jordan’s mother, seemed happy to see many of their son’s teammates, hugging several of the roughly 50 Terps players who came to McDonogh. It also meant something to the McNairs to be back where their son grew into a four-star prospect.
“This was somewhat easy, because this was Jordan’s alma mater,” Martin McNair said. “So the relationship we have here with our McDonogh family, with [football] coach [Hakeem] Sule, the athletic department, the whole educational staff, this was a great group of people. They aided as well in Jordan’s upbringing and turning him into the wonderful young man that he was. It only made sense."
Calling the presence of the Maryland team “amazing”, Martin McNair said: “Any support makes a difference. Obviously with Mike and I, our relationship is one that’s not even football-related. Our relationship is organic. At the end of the day, you’d be surprised that many of the conversations we have, it’s more about supporting one another just in life’s challenges.”
The relationship between the McNairs and the Maryland football team has been eased by the hiring of Locksley last December as coach. Locksley’s friendship with Martin McNair dates to when Locksley’s daughter was a high school classmate of Jordan McNair.
Their relationship grew even closer when the elder McNair provided emotional support for Locksley when his son, Meiko, was shot and killed in Howard County in September 2017. The two also spent time together recently after Locksley’s mother died.
“As I’ve stated before, when you become a member of this fraternity where you lose kids before you go as a parent, my heart just goes out every time I hear about a kid passing away,” Locksley said. “We had a couple of tragedies of former [Maryland] players — Reggie Kemp just passed away a week ago, and before that [the fatal shooting of] David Mackall.”
Locksley said that driving up from College Park “was a little emotional” for him after speaking with the McNairs earlier in the day knowing that his team would be part of the event at McDonogh.
“A very emotional day,” Locksley said. “Jordan in spirit is still a member of our football family. There’s some things that’ll be done [to honor McNair]. He’ll always remain an important member of our family. I’ve said before, it’s almost as if he’s a martyr because of his death, it’s brought so much attention to [heatstroke]. We’ve kind of had to put our best foot forward as far as the protocols to make sure sure that doesn’t happen to another family."
Johnny Jordan, a junior offensive lineman who was one of McNair’s closest friends and roommates, said that the Terps held a friendly team-building workout early Thursday to honor McNair. They broke up into groups and did various drills with one common number in terms of repetitions or yards — 79, which was McNair’s jersey number.
Jordan said that because McNair enjoyed performing community service, “I think it’s only fitting for us to do community service today, especially at his school.” Jordan said that honoring McNair is “just a way to show how we feel on a daily basis.”
“We’ll never forget,” Jordan said. “It’s a tangible way for us to show that we’re still grieving. We’re still 18- to 22-year-old kids who dealt with an unimaginable tragedy.”
As far the bond that still exists between McNair’s parents and the team, Jordan said: “They mean everything to us. We’re always thinking about them in everything we do. Without them, there’s no Jordan and we wouldn’t have blessed with 19 years with Jordan.
“I know Coach Locks has a great relationship with Mr. Marty. Whenever we make a decision as a team, a lot of us think, what would they think of the decision we make? It’s always on our mind and we’re trying to make sure Jordan and they would be OK with how we’re honoring them.”
Sule, a 2005 McDonogh graduate who just finished his first year as the Eagles football coach after eight years as an assistant, said it was important for the school to host Thursday’s event.
“It means a lot to have two institutions here that Jordan attended come together and really teach the younger kids about health, wellness, hydration, taking care of themselves, also give them young guys an opportunity to learn some of the basics about football," said Sule, who taught McNair math when he was a freshman. “It’s great to see the family and some of our current parents working here together on one mission, one agenda.”
As a result of the money raised at a charity golf event last month, the foundation was able to purchase 20 inflatable ice water tubs that it has distributed to various schools, including McDonogh, as well as five Amateur Athletic Union programs throughout the area.
As part of implementing recommendations made by national sports medicine expert Rod Walters, who reviewed what happened the day McNair became ill, Maryland now ensures that cold-water immersion devices are available at all practices, a heatstroke treatment that experts say could’ve saved McNair’s life.
“The main focus of the Jordan McNair Foundation is what Tonya and I didn’t know [about heatstroke],” Martin McNair said. “Something as basic as [the inflatable tubs] aren’t expensive. If they were in place [at Maryland], we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. Our main goal is to educate as many people as possible.”