Southwest Virginia sports community rallies around Belcher

Photographer Sammy Belcher hopes to be back on the sidelines of Southwest Virginia’s football fields when the season rolls around in the spring.

KINGSPORT — Like so many others, Sammy Belcher has had a tough 2020.

The freelance photographer was stricken with COVID-19 earlier this year.

After a scary stay in the hospital, Belcher was released only to find himself back in the hospital weeks later after suffering a stroke that rendered him partially immobile.

“It took out my entire left side,” Belcher said.

He is undergoing a rigorous rehabilitation and is making strides at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Kingsport.

“It’s been some of the most gruesome exercises I have ever done for getting back something as simple as moving my fingers,” said Belcher, who worked out on a regular basis prior to his medical problems. “I’m having some success with getting some (movement) back now. Hopefully, when I get home, with a lot of hard work, I will regain a lot of it.”

SPARTANS LEAD THE CHARGE

Belcher has been on the sidelines and baselines for years, taking photos of student-athletes at events throughout Southwest Virginia — their numbers too numerous to count.

Several of his photos have been printed in the Times News and many more have been posted online at timesnews.net for close to four years.

When word of Belcher’s health problems started circulating throughout the area, Eastside football coach Mike Rhodes said he was approached by people in the community who wanted to do something for the man who has helped preserve memories for so many in the region.

“Some of us wanted to do something for him to let him know we were thinking about him and praying for him,” Rhodes said. “And the players wanted to do something for him, too.”

Rhodes and his team came up with the idea to send Belcher a message and get-well wishes. But they didn’t mail him a card. Instead, they made a video message. Because they could not deliver it to him in person at the hospital, they sent it to him via Facebook.

“I made the videos of the players and then we incorporated photos of the players in the videos that Sammy had taken,” Rhodes said.

Eastside assistant coach Chandler Cole put the video together and posted it on the Eastside Spartan Nation Football Facebook page Saturday.

The video carried a simple message for Belcher: “Sammy Belcher we just want to let you know we are praying for you. Everybody please continue to pray for a speedy recovery for Sammy. We also want to challenge everyone to tag Sammy with pictures he has taken of us all at sporting events.”

As of Monday afternoon, the video had been viewed more than 6,500 times and had close to 60 shares across Facebook.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

Southwest Virginia communities with ties to Belcher through his photos responded to Eastside’s challenge in a big way.

Teams from several sports as well as individual student-athletes and their parents flooded Facebook with pictures taken by the photographer. The posts included photos from Eastside, Union, Wise Central, J.I. Burton, Thomas Walker, Lee High, Ridgeview and John Battle along with those of a couple of journalists and his photographer friends.

“I’m amazed and humbled. I never dreamed people paid as much attention to this,” Belcher said. “I definitely feel loved. Money can’t buy that feeling.

“We are very fortunate to have community support like we have in our area with all the separation that is going on in the world right now.”

Rhodes said he messaged Belcher after the video was posted.

“He was genuinely moved and was excited. It seemed to lift his spirits and I’m glad it did,” Rhodes said. “That’s why we did it. He’s going through a tough time right now and we just wanted to let him know that we are thinking about him and we respect and have appreciation for what he does for us and for all of Southwest Virginia.

“We’re looking forward to when we can get back on the field again and when he’ll be there with us. We really appreciate what he and everyone else does for our programs.”