FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: John Gillis
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (March 12, 2018) — Mark Russell, a high school football official and president of the Huntsville (Alabama) City Council, has been selected as the 2018 Section 3 recipient of the “National High School Spirit of Sport Award” by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Russell will be recognized at the AHSAA Summer Conference Championship Coaches awards banquet Friday night, July 20 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.
The National High School Spirit of Sport Award was created by the NFHS to recognize those individuals who exemplify the ideals of the spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics. Marissa Walker, a student-athlete at Waterford (Connecticut) High School, was selected the 2018 national recipient of the “National High School Spirit of Sport Award.” One recipient from each of the NFHS’s eight districts was selected for section recognition.
An Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) and youth league football official for more than 30 years, Russell has been a member of the Northeast Football Officials Association (NEFBOA) during most of that time. He has served as head of its nominating committee, as the leader of the local football association’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes group, and as chair of the NEFBOA’s benevolent committee projects. He has officiated several AHSAA state championship football games – most recently as a linesman at the 2017 Class 7A title game.
That seemingly innocuous officiating assignment was nothing less than a miracle. Just three months earlier on August 25, Russell was officiating a season-opening high school game between Alabama school Madison Academy and McCallie Academy from Tennessee. During the game, Russell collapsed on the field with heart failure. Paulette Berryman, a nurse who just happened to be working as the Madison Academy school photographer, was standing at the sidelines and quickly came to his aid performing CPR until he was revived. His heart had been stopped with no heartbeat for eight minutes while he lay unconscious on the ground in front of the packed stadium of fans.
He was then rushed by ambulance to Huntsville Hospital’s emergency ward. Within two hours, doctors stabilized him, implanted a stent, and he was sitting up with more than 40 officials who had rushed to the hospital ICU to pray for him and to support him during his time of need. Advised by the doctors to take some extended time off, Russell returned to football in less than a month for a coin toss, and then back as a linesman within six weeks.