The number 44 is a very special number in the Parks household and the Lincoln County community. Austin's dad, Anthony Parks was a stand-out on the football field in Lincoln County and, along with Coach Larry Campbell, they were Georgia’s all-area player and coach of the year in 1990.
This was the start of the 44 era.
The #44 jersey was passed down to various players throughout the years, including Anthony’s little brother Jeffrey Parks and a cousin Jeffery Smith, who passed away from cancer. Our Austin Parks became a football player at an early age by playing rec ball in Lincoln County and Columbia County.
As Austin grew older, he had a desire to play football in Lincoln County with hopes of wearing his dad's football number so after a brief stay in Columbia County, we honored his wishes and moved back to Lincolnton to make that happen. Austin was a humble young man with a very giving and caring heart and was known in the Lincoln County community for that.
During Austin’s senior year in high school, he proudly wore his #44 Jersey and made stand-out plays during the game. He was most proud of his one-handed catch that brought the crowd to their feet and even made the local Lincoln Journal.
After the football season during his senior year, we noticed a knot on Austin's neck. In April 2016, we went to our family doctor, and for weeks he was treated for a bacterial infection, but the knot on his neck grew, and his headaches got worse. After going back to the doctor, we were referred to Ear, Nose, and Throat…although they wanted to schedule him out, we insisted that someone see him right away because of the pain he was experiencing in his facial area.
We were then given a fabulous doctor, Dr. Vickery. Dr. Vickery scheduled Austin for a biopsy on May 5th. He told us he'd have to cut on Austin’s neck, but when we arrived, he decided to order additional scans. After seeing something in his nose, he decided to take something from there.
Austin went back for surgery, and the doctor came out to let is know he was doing great under the anesthesia, and he was telling all the nurses that he was going pro, and he would take care of them, but he had to take care of his mom first. Notice, he didn’t say his dad; he said his mom, however, he eventually said his parents. We asked when we would have the results, and the doctor said it could take about a week. The doctor eventually came back out and called us into a room to discuss the surgery, and at that time, he said he had to let us know the obvious findings.
At that time, he let us know that our precious Austin had cancer…. I remember falling to the floor and crying hysterically --- this could not be happening to our baby boy… Our firstborn, our Austin Parks.
When Austin came out of surgery, we couldn’t tell him. We had to bring him in every day after that for more tests and scans. He asked what’s all this for and all I could do was cry in silence, in every bathroom, in every closet, in every corner because we couldn’t tell him. We wanted to wait until he saw the doctor again that Monday, and we had more information.
When the doctor told him, it was like his world stopped, and we as parents had to put on our STRONG faces and tell him we were going to fight this battle with him every step of the way.
After the word reached Lincolnton, we came home to a packed yard of support. The doctors told him he had to start treatment right away, so the last few weeks of his senior year were shattered, so we thought. The doctors told him that he shouldn’t go back to school, but he was determined not to give up. He said, "The coldest place in the school is the library, so just put me in there because there can’t be any germs in the library!"
That’s what they did, and through chemo and doctor’s appointments, Austin Parks finished his senior year out at Lincoln County high school and received a standing ovation at his graduation.
His fight continued. He would go to treatments and then come home and put on his cleats and hit the football field, the track, or the basketball court. He said he couldn’t slow down because he’s planning to play pro football one day. This was when he picked up the slogan that “Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard!” he was determined.
After winning his battle in July 2017, the news team at Fox, who had always covered his story, came out to witness him ringing the bell. Austin Parks was on fire; God had granted him the opportunity to finish this course and go to college! In August, he was off to Statesboro to start his journey. He had plans to focus on his education and then move on to play college football. While there, he took advantage of all that college had to offer.
He played basketball in the gym at Georgia Southern and played on a flag football team there as well. One day when playing basketball, the guys asked why he never took his hat off, and when he explained, they were astonished and told him that he was a hero to them because he was playing as hard as they were with all that he had been through. They encouraged him to remove his hat because he was a hero to them.
We were so excited for him and relieved to see him moving on with his life. He would drive in from Statesboro because he had to continue to get his scan.
In October 2017, I received a call from the doctor stating that his scan wasn’t clear, and he would have to come back and start treatments all over again. We were told that if it comes back, it will come back with a vengeance, and that’s what it did.
It shattered our hearts and shattered Austin too. He came home and started his fight all over again. The treatments were harsh, the radiation burned him, and the cancer was spreading everywhere. By the time we finished one, it was in another, but we prayed that God would heal our Austin on this side because we weren’t ready for him to go to the other, but, of course, our plans are not God's plans.
Eventually, Austin couldn’t walk, and most of his days were spent in the hospital, but he was still a determined young man. In April, Austin promised a young lady that he would take her to the prom. We knew he could barely walk if he walked at all, and we told him to let her know he couldn’t do it. The night before, he was in the emergency room and didn’t leave until 8 am the next morning. I had rented him a dodge challenger with the Hemi, and he was determined to drive it, even though he hadn’t driven in weeks.
After getting him home that morning, almost just in time for pictures with the young lady, he had me help him get into a tux and drive him to the destination. Afterward, I showed him where he would have to walk in and told him he didn’t have to do it if he couldn’t, but he was determined not to let this young lady down. He actually drove the car to the prom, walked her in, and although he didn’t stay long, he made it happen. Needless to say, he never walked after that.
After weeks and months in the hospital and numerous other stories that I could tell you someday, Austin’s health continued to deteriorate. The doctors continued to bring us the devastating news, but we refused to believe it. After talking and joking with Austin about how he had a rough morning, and he needed to get some sleep, and telling him that I loved him and that I would talk to him when he woke up, I never knew that those would be our last words.
The doctor came in later that day and said his vitals were dropping and that he probably wouldn’t be waking up. All I could do was pray and ask God to let His will be done with the gift he gave us, Austin Parks!!
Of course, our lives, our hearts, and our souls were shattered, but more so, the community was at a loss for words. We had to show strength for the many young hearts that were hurting. I remember one post on FB the following morning-- It stated that the sun tried to shine today in Lincoln County, but the passing of Austin Parks put a cloud over the county that wouldn’t even allow the sun to shine through. (Priceless)
From that point on, the family, the community, the doctors, the nurses, and individuals threw out the CSRA, and various states continued to grow and support The legacy of the Austin Parks #44 Strong Organizations.
In 2018, the football team wore AP44 Strong on their helmets the entire season. We’ve had to drive back to school for giveaways, we’ve donated to various individuals and causes, his jersey is now an honorary jersey in Lincoln County. We have a player of the week in Lincoln County each week. We have the Austin Parks #44 Strong Scholarship.
Our goal is to continue to grow the organization, so we can continue the programs we have in place and also incorporate other programs to be able to give back to the Children’s Hospital of Georgia along with other charitable needs in the CSRA!
We also have the Austin Parks #44 Strong Lake House Retreat, which is a home that we would like to use to bring in families from the hospital, those who have suffered a loss, or who even are those who have fallen on hard times, and can’t take the much need vacation or break from society. We would like to give that to them because it was given to us!