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Moved by Tennessee school drummer's plight, Tarpon Springs band goes far to help

Dewey Williams learned of a Tennessee drummer's plight when trying to buy photographs of his son's marching band competing in Atlanta.

The photographer with images of the Tarpon Springs High School band, named grand champions at the national competition, told him of another band that had competed, too — and how one of its drummers couldn't make the trip because he was in a coma in Tennessee.

So Williams spread the word to band members. Not only did the Tarpon band take up the cause, but an entourage went to Tennessee to see the injured drummer and deliver a donation to his family.

"At that first meeting, we raised $700 from parents writing checks. Three weeks later, we had $2,000," Williams said. "You can be leaders on the field, but you can also be leaders off the field and this was a great lesson."

Williams learned from the photographer that proceeds of the picture sales were going to the family of Matt Hodge, a 17-year-old percussionist from Fred J. Page High School in Franklin, Tenn. A senior, he had been in an August crash that left him in a coma.

Williams, a retired Clearwater deputy police chief, spoke with Tarpon Springs band boosters, students, family members and band director Kevin Ford about helping.

Mike Amorello, 18 and Tarpon's drum major, said everyone was asked to bring $10. Every one of the more than 100 band members contributed, he said.

"I encourage anybody who encounters an opportunity like that to do it," Amorello, a senior, said of rasing money for the Hodges. "It was really humbling because it really brings you back to earth. Our little gesture brought a lot of hope to the situation."

Earlier this month, Williams, band parent Pat Longhofer and four band members traveled at their own expense to Franklin and presented the Hodge family a check and a huge card that band members made.

Sandy Hodge and her husband, Tim, who had lived in Orlando for seven years, were astounded by Tarpon High's presentation.

"We were just amazed," Sandy Hodge said during a telephone interview. "They flew or drove 740 miles to meet us. We've had a lot of bands and drum lines that have reached out, locally and across the nation, but what separates Tarpon Springs is they wanted to journey here and meet him.

"It was not just enough to send a card or a check, but they spent the day. It's just so encouraging right now to know that people are thinking about Matt."

Arrangements were made for someone to sit with Matt while the two attended the presentation in his honor at Page High. Later, the Tarpon representatives went to visit him in a hospital.

On Aug. 22, Matt Hodge, who played the quads in Page High's drum line, was on his way home after having dropped off his girlfriend when his car collided with a train going 50 mph.

The car spun around and hit a light pole, his mother said. There were no broken bones, but he remains in a coma.

"It must have caught him off guard," Sandy Hodge said. "He wasn't texting or on the phone because we have checked his records. But he's a very strong, very smart, intelligent young man."

Four months after the crash, Matt is still considered to be in a coma but is able to track objects with his eyes and squeeze his girlfriend's hand. He recognizes voices. With his glasses, he's able to focus more on people's faces.

"He's come a very long way," Sandy Hodge said.

Nathan Longhofer, 17, and a senior saxophone player in Tarpon's band, made the trip along with his brother, Benjamin. Marcus Williams was the other band member to make the trip.

"When we were asked if we wanted to do this, the entire band immediately raised its hands," Nathan Longhofer said. "To help the Hodges get Matt back to the way he was and getting him back to what he loves the most — and that's playing percussion — that's a great cause."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

ON THE WEB

Follow Matt

To follow Matt Hodge's battle, go to www.Caringbridge.org/visit/matthodge. A free registration is required.

Moved by Tennessee school drummer's plight, Tarpon Springs band goes far to help 12/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2009 7:43pm]
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