ONEONTA, Ala. (WIAT) – Alma Vasquez waved to her brother.
That was on October 10, 2013, just as Isaii Vasquez was finishing a pickup football game outside of Ononta High School. Alma, then young at Oneonta, had just arrived on the field to try on her new shoes and practice a bit.
When Isai left, she waved at him. That was the last time he saw her alive.
“I felt the need to make an effort and tell her I was excited for her,” Isai said. “For some reason, a parent drew my attention and I will not see her later.”
Not long after arriving home, Isai received a phone call from one of his brothers that Alma had collided with another player during training and was unconscious. Alma was lying on her brother’s lap crying on the phone.
“He was scared,” Isai said. “He was trying to do something.”
Alma died later that night after suffering a cardiac arrest. She was 17 years old.
“It brings back painful memories,” Isai said. “At the same time, faith in God, it gave us hope that her condition was better, that he took it with him.”
Nearly 10 years after her death, Ononta honors Alma’s memory by retiring her shirt number, a tribute reserved for the community’s most remembered athletes. The team unveiled its shirt at the ceremony Thursday night during a game against High School Susan Moore.
“It warms my heart to know that people have not forgotten her,” Brother Lewis said.
For the new season, Louise Vasquez switched shirts to the girls team. Rummaging through various shirts, the head coach of the team came across a number of Alma: 7. Vasquez asked the team who wanted to take the shirt. No one said a word.
“Someone in the back said, ‘Coach, we can not wear No. 7.’ That’s Alma’s number,” Lewis said.
For Lewis, it was a soft moment for him. Nearly 10 years after his sister disappeared, his actors – many of whom were only children when she died – still knew her number.
“Obviously being her brother, with everything that happened, it was really emotional,” he said.
As Lewis and Isai tell it, the young lady on the field was much different from Alma at home. On the field she was a fierce striker.
“She was the little girl who wanted to become someone of her own,” Isai said. “She was very aggressive when it came to the ball.”
As corrupt as she can be in football, Alma was very different at home, a student of quiet excellence who usually kept to herself. However, if she was getting ready for school in the mornings, it would be a different story.
“The first thing I heard was singing Christian songs, every morning,” Lewis said. “All she would do was listen to Christian radio and pray.”
What made Alma’s death more heartbreaking was not how fast it happened, but how she had things she wanted to do when she graduated, like being a police investigator one day.
“She always wanted to do things that were pretty crazy,” Lewis said. “I think it would be an honor to be an officer. She never got the chance to do that, but she was a great officer.”
Alma’s death hit the Vasquez family at their lowest point. Just a year earlier, her father, Panfilo, had died of heart problems. A few years earlier, her brother, Juan, had died, also of heart problems.
“We were just trying to recover from my father’s loss,” Lewis said. “My dad wanted my sister nearby.”
Isai said no one in the family knew that Alma had heart problems, or that her health problems could be related to what her brother and father had. After her death, they became more aware of their own health.
“At this point, we are all aware of what is happening with the family and we are all caring for each other,” Isai said. “We take care of our doctor’s tests.”
Isai hopes his sister’s number will be immortalized in the community and will help younger players not only get to know her story, but also her love of acting.
“Maybe we can give the kids the opportunity to have a better future in football, maybe get them a scholarship, maybe get them a career,” he said.
Lewis wants his Alma’s legacy to be one of love.
“All I hope for is that the number symbolizes hope, that it symbolizes courage, perseverance and endurance,” he said. “It’s a story of compassion. Above all else, it’s love of God.”