One shows a montage with his late father’s face, hovering by the Cleburne County High football press box in a Friday night sky. Son Matthew Shortt, a senior lineman, stands on the other side in his No. 72 jersey, looking up and right, toward his grandfather.
The other picture shows a brown-eyed susan, floating in a clear, shallow Virginia stream over rocks. Shortt’s father’s ashes had just settled on those rocks, and a ray of sunlight had just broken through clouds for lighting.
The brown-eyed susan was Glenn Shortt’s favorite flower, and Michael Shortt’s nieces had put some in the stream. One followed the current into the frame, just as Michael Shortt snapped the last of three pictures.
The long-time Cleburne County football coach said he counts the random confluence of elements in the picture as yet another sign from God he had handled all things related to his father’s passing in the way his father would have wanted.
It was a moment of clarity and peace in a summer of emotional and physical pain, which could carry into Cleburne County’s key Class 4A, Region 5 game tonight at Anniston. There’s the chance his recent bout with kidney stones could reflare.
“Hopefully, they won’t pass in the middle of the ballgame,” Michael Shortt said about the two stones still floating in his kidneys, both larger than six millimeters. “That would be very painful.”
At least the 51-year-old coach is beyond the 7.9-millimeter stone that kept him out of the Tigers’ season-opening victory over Weaver 44-20 a week ago. Lithotripsy broke that one up, and a stent was removed Tuesday.
And at least Michael Shortt is beyond hernia surgery, which he had to reschedule because of his father’s passing July 10.
Beyond all that has tested him this summer lies a promising fall. Cleburne County entered this season ranked No. 10 in Class 4A.
The Tigers validated that ranking against Weaver, putting up 44 points with their head coach watching from his father’s old perch in the press box and with starting quarterback Brady Padgett sidelined with mononucleosis.
Padgett is back in practice this week. After running suicides at the end of Wednesday’s two-and-a-half-hour practice in brutal humidity, he said he felt fine and looks forward to the Anniston game.
“We’re confident,” Padgett said. “For the first time in a while, we’ve got all of our guys back, and I feel like we’re going to do a good job.”
One of the guys returning is the head coach, who has been away a couple of times this summer.
Michael Shortt was away from workouts for about a month dealing with his father’s passing and hernia surgery. When he came back, he was “the same old Coach Shortt,” Padgett said.
The junior and second-year starter said the Tigers missed their coach’s presence on the sideline in the Weaver game, but they’ve seen him come back from a lot. A blood-pressure spike of 160 over 120 forced him to leave at halftime of a game at Alexandria in 2009, and that incident led to diagnoses of a thyroid condition and pre-diabetes.
Michael Shortt fought off the latter by losing 30 pounds.
The Tigers also saw Michael Shortt coach in a 7-on-7 tournament at Piedmont this summer, right after he buried his father and spent four days in bed recovering from hernia surgery.
“He’s never going to quit,” Padgett said. “No matter what happens, he’ll always be there for us.”
Michael Shortt was used to his father being there.
Glenn Shortt was 93 when he died of congestive heart failure, after fighting for about a month at Regional Medical Center. Advanced age and all that comes with it didn’t keep him from the L.E. Bell Stadium press box on fall Fridays. He was a fixture around the Cleburne County program, not to mention his son’s life.
“He was always with me, playing ball,” Michael Shortt said. “Everywhere I coached, he was always there.”
Glenn Shortt’s wishes included having some of his ashes spread in the mountains of his native Virginia. Michael Shortt, having postponed hernia surgery, made the drive.
He and his living sister, Diane Dewberry, her family and other family members attended a brief service at the site where their mother, a still-born sister and the rest of their father’s ashes were buried. During the service, Michael Shortt’s attention was drawn to two does in nearby pasture.
The does made their way to the edge of the adjoining woods then stopped and looked back. A buck came into view and caught up with the does, and they looked back before disappearing into the woods.
Glenn Shortt liked to hunt, and Michael Shortt said he saw the deer activity as a sign of his father joining his mother and still-born sister in Heaven.
Then Michael made his way one of his father’s favorite fishing holes and dropped some ashes in the water. He wanted to take a picture of ashes on the rocks, but sunlight was scarce.
Suddenly, rays poked through clouds, and one ray illuminated exactly the right spot. Michael Shortt snapped three pictures, and a brown-eyed susan floated into the frame on the third.
Michael Shortt came away fulfilled.
“I’ll never feel the need to go back there,” he said. “That was a sign that I’d done all that my daddy would have wanted me to do.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.