Marshall County’s track-and-field team visited Chattanooga, Tenn., for a meet this weekend. The Marshals will leave the city winners regardless of their results, however.
The team ate dinner at the Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga, Tenn. Once restaurant manager Bill Funderburk realized during their meal that the visitors to his restaurant were involved in the shooting that occurred at Marshall County High School in January, he knew he wanted to do something to treat them.
He put in a call to his district manager, Philip Wilson, and the two decided the best thing to do was to comp the bill for the team’s meal, which totaled $789.26 after taxes. Laken Dirkes Adair, a coach at Marshall County, shared an image of the receipt on social media and it went viral via a tweet Chris Jung, a former Kentucky sports reporter.
“I called my boss and said, ‘’We got to do something for these folks,’ so we decided we would show ’em Chattanooga hospitality, and especially at Olive Garden, the 100-percent delight and hospitality I know,” Funderburk said. “ … It almost made me cry when we decided to do that. This is such a great company, to just (do that) on the spur of the moment. Those kids, nobody was telling us about it, nobody was asking for anything.
Funderburk noticed that many of the patrons were wearing “Marshall” shirts and Marshall University immediately came to mind. He started asking about the university but when they mentioned being from Marshall, Ky., it rang a bell and he began talking about the shooting with some of the parents.
“We just really wanted those kids to have a good time,” Funderburk said. “ … I’m a father of seven, so I’m a big softie when it comes to kids. It could have been any one of our kids.”
Two of the shooting victims, twins Christian and Mason Cosner, are surviving members of the track-and-field team. Christian was trampled during the event, breaking his ribs, and Mason suffered a jaw injury after a bullet was lodged in his neck. Both boys are competing this weekend in Chattanooga.
Dirkes Adair said trips like the one to Chattanooga are often more about bonding and creating memories for kids rather than the actual competitions that take place. Trips like it take on an even more special meaning in the aftermath of the shooting.
“One of our coaches said it best: It’s not about the money. We could have afforded the meal,” she said. “It’s just about the love and support that these kids get all the time. That’s what matters.”