The first time I noticed Verne Middleton was, unsurprisingly to those who knew him, was at the AHSAA State Cross Championships.
Scottsboro runners were gathering for the awards ceremony at the Oakville Indian Mounds Park and Museum’s Amphitheater to accept its state championships trophies. Middleton was talking with runners and leading cheers to pass the time before the awards ceremony began.
After that, I began to notice him at Scottsboro meets. He was the Scottsboro Cross Country program’s super fan. Sadly, the program said goodbye this week to its super fan.
Middleton, 89, died July 20 and a memorial service was held July 25 at the First United Methodist Church in Broad Street in Scottsboro. Among those paying their respects were Scottsboro cross country runners past and present, and they were encouraged to wear a team shirt.
Middleton followed the team to meets and celebrated their accomplishments like no other fan. He gave his time and money to help the program. He wanted nothing more than for those runners to succeed.
“It’s hard to put into words the affect he’s had on our runners,” said Scottsboro head coach Luke Robinson. “He loved cross country. The kids love him and loved seeing him [at meets]. He was always encouraging them and was such a great influence. He’s been a real treat to the cross country program. I’m very thankful I got to meet him and spend time with him.”
Middleton, an Illinois native, enlisted in the 82nd Airborne Division upon graduating from high school and served his country during the occupation of Japan following World War II. He rose to the rank of Sergeant, and rightly so, was proud of his military service to our country. He was always a fixture at the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Collins Intermediate School, and was Alabama’s “Veteran of the Year” in 2017.
Work brought him to Jackson County, but Middleton and his late wife Rita, made it home. He was a faithful member of the local United Methodist Church. He’s survived by many children and grandchildren. And he’ll always be remembered fondly by those Scottsboro runners he cheered, celebrated and appreciated during his time supporting the Wildcats.
The runners called him “Mr. Verne.” And the program will always remember him as its super fan.
› Jason Bowen is the sports editor of the Sentinel. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. Follow Jason on Twitter at @jbo_sports12