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Forever Number 87

Dana Payne 1By Thomas Sellers Jr.

For those who knew the late Dana Payne, his smile had a lasting impact.

It’s that image that gives his mother Tameka Smith the strength to proceed with her life. Everyday in her Northaven home, she pops into Dana’s bedroom for a reminder of the grin that would light up a room.

“I go in his room everyday and he’s right there smiling on all his pictures,” she said. “I can’t do anything but smile right back at him.”

Smith also smiled Friday afternoon in the Millington Central High School Library seeing her son’s No. 87 jersey framed and embowered with Payne across the shoulder blade.

The MCHS administration and football coaching staff came together to celebrate the memory of Payne and retire the No. 87. On hand to dedicate the framed jersey were Principal Mark Neal, Assistant Principal Beth Hale and Head Football Coach Chris Michael.

“We’re going to retire that number from any further use,” Michael said. “We’re going to let it hang in the halls of the high school for all the  future generations to remember him by.”

Payne’s No. 87 will be the second number retired at Millington, joining Mario Reed’s No. 29. No other Millington Trojan football player will ever wear 87. Payne passed away last August after suffering internal injuries from a tackle during practice. The sophomore was 15 years old at the time of his passing. Sunday would have marked Payne’s 16th birthday and a party called Living in Our Hearts held at Northaven Park hosted by his mother.

The ceremony at the MCHS Library was just part of Smith’s weekend-long celebration of Payne’s life. Smith and her support system of  her mother Diana and relatives like Ronica Taylor, Alvedo Puryear, and Jer’fonzo Smith have kept the memory of Dana alive.

Meanwhile staff, faculty and Payne’s peers at MCHS have paid tribute to their fallen Trojan since August with wristbands, 87 painted on the field, posters and Facebook tribute pages. The latest and most sacred tribute to date was the number retirement.

In the main office, Payne’s jersey will hang among former Millington Football greats Marlon Barnes (20), Ahmaad Galloway (22) and Tyrone Calico (33).

“With the other ones up there, Marlon, Ahmaad and Tyrone, those guys they were recognized for their excellence and accomplishment on the field collectively and on into the professional ranks,” Michael noted. “But we didn’t retire their numbers.  This is only the second number to ever be retired with Mario’s No. 29 to never be worn again. Now Dana’s 87 to be retired, they are the only two numbers to ever be retired and never be worn again.”

Neal, who came to Millington in August 2000, said the No. 87 retirement is the school’s and community’s way of paying tribute to Payne.

“To remember Dana on his birthday by dedicating his jersey means a lot,” he said. “I started my roots here by coaching and teaching at Millington. So I know the hard work, love and commitment these young men have. And Dana was no exception. He loved Millington and he loved playing football  and being a Trojan. We want to honor him by saying, ‘He is a Trojan and forever a Trojan.’ By framing that jersey, that symbolizes he’ll always be a member of our team.

“You come in and see that, you’ll see us acknowledging a young man who was committed to this school and gave everything he had to this school, to a sport he loved which was football,” Neal added. “Now Dana is looking down on us smiling because we’re acknowledging his love. A love for Millington, as his school and his Trojan Football team.”

Michael said those who played with, coached and befriended Payne will have his memory in their hearts eternally. And the dedication of the jersey and retirement of the No. 87 will give those who didn’t know him a chance to remember the sophomore wide receiver.

“We can say, ‘Look, he’s going to forever be with us,’” he said. “‘This will always be a reminder for all those to come and that will be here of what a special person he was, what he meant to our school and community.’

“For the team its probably some closure,” Michael added. “We had a hard, rough road with this. He was with us and we want to thank him for keeping his eyes and hands on us as we battled through all our hurt and grief. We thank him for keeping his angelic hand upon us as we trek through that season last year to make sure we were able to endure. He would have wanted that. He wouldn’t want us to continue to sob and grieve and not go out there doing what he loved. Which was compete and play that game of football.”

Smith said the joking child with the big smile can also be remembered as No. 87 forever.

“His number will be retired and that’s a good thing,” she said. “It will hang up at the school forever. I would have loved to have one hanging up at home. But it being here is great.

“I thought about it all last night,” Smith concluded, “‘He’ll be up there forever.’ His memory will always live on.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1SOV8uTuXs]

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