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SEB throws support behind greiving Rockmart
SEB Softball
Southeast Bulloch softball coach Aimee Civalier (front) congratulates Rockmart coach Steve Luke following Rockmart's win over SEB to advance to the Class AAA Final Four.

The Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets and Rockmart Yellow Jackets softball teams had more than their mascots in common this season. Neither team really expected to get as far as the Class-AAA Elite 8.

Southeast Bulloch lost a few key seniors from their team that advanced to the Elite 8 in 2019. Over the off season they also found out that their leading offensive player, catcher Delanie Thames, would have to miss the entire season with shoulder surgery. Thames was a first team All-State selection as a freshman the year before. 

Rockmart also made a deep run at state in 2019. They were hit even harder by graduation as six seniors left from their team that placed third in the state. They also had to overcome a truly tragic loss during the off season.

On July 24, Rockmart head coach Steve Luke’s 14-year-old daughter Tori died in a freak boating accident in Alabama. Tori, the eldest of Luke’s three children, was a rising freshman softball player, and had been a standout performer for years playing travel ball.

Tori Luke’s death sent the Rockmart community reeling. Steve and Robin Luke are both coaches and educators in the Polk School District. Tori’s funeral service was held in the Rockmart High School gym, with Steve performing the eulogy.

After the funeral, Luke took a few weeks off and contemplated whether or not he felt like he could coach this season.

“I sat down with my college baseball coach and my wife and they felt like I really needed to coach this year,” said Luke. “Eight of these girls on the team I coached in travel ball, along with my daughter, since they were eight years old. I felt like it wasn’t fair for them to lose two people, let alone lose one.”

After missing the first four games of the season Luke went on to lead Rockmart to a third-place finish in their region before defeating Lumpkin County and Sandy Creek on their way to the Elite 8 in Brooklet.

“Things started clicking for us toward the end of the season, and into the playoffs,” said Luke. “I have had some really talented teams. We won it all one year, and last year we placed third. This team has been special not necessarily because of the talent, but they are the closest team I have ever had. They spend the night together, they go bowling together, and just really have a tight bond.”

In the Elite 8 series. Southeast Bulloch took game one 8-3, but Rockmart came back to win game two 2-1 to force a third and decisive game on Wednesday. Despite not having rain in the area prior to the game, a rainbow appeared above the field in Brooklet while the teams were warming up.

“When we showed up for game three there was so much tension on our bus,” Luke said. “While we were warming up someone pointed out the rainbow over our heads. There was no rain around us and no rain in the forecast. The first thing I did when I found out my daughter passed away was, I went to her room and picked up her bible. When I opened it up Inside was a rainbow she had drawn.”

“When we saw that rainbow we felt at ease,” said Luke. “We just knew we were going to win that game.”

Many of the Southeast Bulloch parents and coaches had heard of the loss Luke and the Rockmart team had suffered. After the game a number of them expressed their condolences and made an effort to tell him how much they were thinking about him, and that he and his team were in their prayers.

Southeast Bulloch coach Aimee Civalier wrote to Luke sending congratulations, and telling him she felt his daughter’s presence was with his team. She pointed out the rainbow as well.

Luke responded by thanking her and telling her that he felt the Southeast Bulloch community was full of amazing people, and that the conversations he had with parents and community members will last a lifetime.

The run in the state playoffs saw the Yellow Jackets advance to the state championship game, where they met region foe Ringgold. The Yellow Jackets took the first game 7-6 in extra innings, then lost game two 9-2. The championship game was held Saturday and despite an early lead, the Jackets season came to a close falling 7-6 and settling for state runners up.

“We had a 6-0 lead in the championship game, but we just couldn’t hold on,” said Luke. “I’m not sure what happened, but some of the things we struggled with in the beginning of the season came back to hurt us. You can’t take away what these girls accomplished though, and the heart they played with the entire year to get us to the championship.”

“Along our run I saw so many signs, and there were many teams and communities that supported us,” said Luke. “But in particular in my 20 years of coaching I’ve never seen the kind of generosity and love we experienced from the Southeast Bulloch Community.”

“I’m friends on Facebook now with a few people from Southeast Bulloch,” said Luke. “The comments, the support from that community has been unbelievable. It’s such an amazing feeling to play a high-tension state playoff game, win the game, and walk away with new found friends was incredible. It was the greatest series I have even been a part of.”

The thoughts and appreciation from the Rockmart family towards Southeast Bulloch were further highlighted in an email sent to Civalier from Rockmart athletic director Barry Williams:

"I wanted to reach out to you this morning and say what a great series between two great softball teams and thank you for the hospitality and sportsmanship that you and your fans afforded our team, coaches, and fans.  As you know we experienced a tragedy on our team during the summer, our Head Coach Steve Luke lost his daughter Tori in a boating accident.  I was witness yesterday to an outpouring of great sportsmanship, sympathy, and genuine caring for him and our team.  Steve had several parents approach him, they congratulated him, they hugged him, some relayed similar stories of loss they had suffered, we had one gentleman pray with us after the game.  I also spoke with Steve about your conversation and the text that you sent him last night.  Yesterday was an emotional day for all of us but I cannot imagine what Steve is feeling.  Coach in my 25 years of coaching and being an Athletic Director I have never witnessed such sportsmanship and true caring for a team or a coach as I witnessed yesterday.  I called my wife last night on the way home before I knew all of the contacts that had been made with Steve and before I knew of your text.  I told her how heavy my heart was for him and those girls and I prayed that God would put his hand on them and on Steve to give him strength to handle this no matter the future outcome.  It was only 5 minutes and I received a call from the assistant coach relaying some of the information of what took place and then Steve called and gave me the full story.  I have to believe God already knew their needs and took care of them before I even prayed my prayer.  I am sorry about the personal feelings I interjected here, but felt like you needed to know the impact you, your coaches,  and fans had on us yesterday.  From one Jacket Nation to another you should be extremely proud of your team, coaches, and community.  I can tell you that it is great to win and hard to lose. I have been on both sides, but what you are teaching at SE Bulloch goes a lot deeper than wins and losses.  Rockmart coaches and fans will always be thank-ful for what we witnessed yesterday.  God Bless you and Thanks again.