True heroes of the community neither tout their own accomplishments nor expect accolades or earthly rewards in return, and 22-year-old Starr Thompson is no exception.
It has been a year of gut-punch moments for so many. So the sight of Thompson, a 2019 NAIA All-American football player at Georgetown College, shouting and leaping several feet in the air off the front steps of his family home Wednesday morning after learning he'd won a new car for his good deeds was medicine for countless hearts and souls.
“All glory to God. I am incredibly grateful and thankful just to be considered for that,” Thompson said. “For me, (it's) a day about everybody else but me, but definitely a day of celebration.”
Thompson is one of 50 community servants across the country who were chosen to receive a custom, convertible Mazda MX-5 Miata, in honor of the auto manufacturer's 100th anniversary.
Nominated by longtime friend and fellow GC athlete Matthew Longstreet, Thompson won his wheels through a program entitled “Mazda Heroes: Honoring the Human Spirit.” The criteria: Selflessness during the dark period of COVID-19.
Longstreet touted Thompson's leadership in launching a youth football camp, then donating all the proceeds to the Ed Davis Learning Center to benefit further social and athletic programs for kids.
Thompson also has served at The Gathering Place Mission and is heavily involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“To be honest with you, I still don't know if that's enough,” Longstreet said of his friend's reward on a video released through the college's YouTube platform. “He wants other people to be happy. Starr is going to find a way to bless people with the gifts he's given.
“That man is finally going to get everything the world wants to give him that he deserves.”
Thompson and Longstreet grew up together and were fellow students at South Oldham High School in Crestwood.
Their friendship further blossomed after both became athletes at GC; Thompson on the football field, Longstreet on the soccer pitch.
“Think of people in your life that are truly a friend for you all the time. The ups the downs, the in-betweens, when life's boring and even when it's awesome, and it's all because of the Lord,” Longstreet said. “He learns you. He learns who you are. He learns what you like and what you don't like. He learns what you're good at and what you're not good at. And he wraps that up in a playbook of how he can be the best friend he can be for you.”
Longstreet said he was scrolling through Instagram when he randomly saw an advertisement about the Mazda promotion.
Skeptical until he clicked and learned further details, Longstreet said he immediately thought of Thompson, whose football exploits included 106 tackles and three interceptions in his highly decorated senior season.
His task was to summarize Thompson's track record of service in a one-minute video. That was enough to move him into the final round, leading to an email inquiry that the candidate initially feared might be a scam.
“Really cool experience. Really caught me off guard,” Thompson said. “I looked it up myself just to make sure it was legit. You don't really believe it until you see it with your own eyes, all the different types of people that they were having to interview. There were over 100,000 applications, so to be in the final round was a huge, huge honor.”
Thompson initially pitched his football camp to another friend and fellow athlete, women's basketball standout Kennedy Flynn, over lunch one day.
He said God continued to put the idea on his heart for a year, then two, until he reached out to GC football coach Bill Cronin and athletic director Brian Evans for their advice. Thompson took their strong administrative support as confirmation.
“I've always had a heart for kids. That's something I've really carried with me is I love kids,” Thompson said. “I really do believe that children are the future, and we have to invest in them.
“A lot of times nowadays kids get neglected, because it's so easy to just throw a screen in front of them and allow that to occupy their time, and they don't really have that many options that kids in the past may have had. Something where you can get kids active and in community with each other, so they can have that avenue of fun and also good exercise that they would not normally have is very important. So the camp was a no-brainer for me.”
Then came the task of deciding whom the camp should benefit. Thompson knew of Ed Davis Learning Center, a community resource that includes basketball courts, a playground, a community garden and picnic shelters.
He thought it was a natural fit, and his idea was welcomed with open arms.
“I went over there and sat down and had a couple of conversations. It's a camp for children, so the proceeds should go to help children directly,” Thompson said. “I told them, 'I've heard a lot about what you do, and I really respect it, and this is something we could do for you guys.'
“It was funny how all for it everybody was throughout the entire process. I would not have been able to script it that way. There should have been a lot more hurdles to jump through and a lot more obstacles to overcome, but I really didn't.”
Thompson, who has served as an inspirational speaker and story-time reader in local schools, visited those campuses to ask for help from teaches and administrators in getting the word out.
He also negotiated with Chick-fil-A to provide lunch for the campers in return for putting the restaurants logo on the camp T-shirts.
“It was just really, really awesome to see the support and the love that people had for each other, and I think that's something that should be highlighted in today's times,” Thompson said. “There's so much negative going around. There are good people in the world, and they're right around your community. All you have to do sometimes is walk down the street, and you can find one.”
His camp itself was all the fun and fraternity Thompson thought it would be.
“The kids were awesome. They were energetic. I could tell at first they were a little standoffish. You're bringing in kids from all across the community and these different areas, and they're not always familiar with each other,” Thompson said. “But not even the first day, probably after the first hour, those kids were out there having a ball, getting to know each other and making memories they wouldn't have had the opportunity to make. That right there showed me it was worth it.”
Thompson's sponsor lauded his friend's entire model for the camp as the epitome of heroism.
“He brought kids from fifth grade to eighth grade and taught them not only about being leaders and great football players, but just to learn and grow and be better in their community. Starr became a light and example to those kids,” Longstreet said. “Not only does he take them and teach them something that's awesome and really fun, but now all the money that he gets from that, he's giving back to the people that came to the camp and other people in the community to advance more and more communal growth.
“Sometimes friends are heroes. They're the people that drag us out of the darkest times in our life, and also the people that praise us, glorify us and grow us the most in our life. That's what a hero does. They save the day, and when they do save the day, they bring the whole community with them and get a key. Well, that's Starr. Starr does that for every person he meets.”
Thompson received the winning news during an interview with a fellow football star, former New York Giants' defensive lineman Michael Strahan, on ABC's “Good Morning America.”
His story was told along with those of two other winners before the reveal that the grand prize was waiting in their driveway. His eyes widening, Thompson raised his hands to his face and exclaimed, “No way!”
He looked out of the window and sprang through the front door into the snow-speckled yard.
“One of my first thoughts (when I heard about the contest) was I have a working car. Maybe this was one of those things were I should use this to help benefit someone else or leverage it to help myself be better off to get financially stable,” he said. “But I 'm in a position now where my car is garbage, so it is a huge blessing.”
Friends and colleagues say that first impression is no surprise.
“He did it in my life. He did in on the football team, being a defensive captain and an All-American, leading on and off the field,” Longstreet said. “He spoke at multiple different schools in the community on Christian values, leadership, growth, what that looks like. He's a leader for change. It's almost a redundant word, Starr and hero. To me, they're the same thing.”
“In a world of darkness, there's gotta be light, and he's that light,” GC assistant football coach Michael Caba added during the GMA piece.
To Thompson, it's a simple equation. He saw a void in the world around him and asked himself how he could fill it.
“In my childhood, I always had people to invest in me and facilitate my growth to the point where I am today,” he said. “So I feel called and compelled to try and fill that role for kids in my local area.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.