Scott and Mandy Crain were taking their daily walk around Frenchman’s Bend Road one random Tuesday when they rounded the corner and noticed the smoke.
The couple took off running, thinking it was the house of their neighbors who had a newborn baby present, but as they inched closer to their Monroe home, they realized they were mistaken.
Their three children ran out of their burning home shoeless and without their phones, as the car exploded and blew out the windows of their home.
All the firemen could salvage from that Aug. 18 house fire were the couple's wedding rings, but Mandy, with chills running down her arms, said she would never complain. She couldn't.
“I’m nothing but grateful because this community is unlike no other,” said Mandy, who is an assistant principal at Ouachita Junior High. “We got the support not only from the Sterlington community, but also the Ouachita community stepped up, as well, and supported us all the way through. I don’t want people to think it was just Sterlington. It was so many people. I can never repay the debt of them.”
As the couple raced closer to their house and shouted toward neighbors in the vicinity to help get their kids out of their home, neighbor Blake Shelby ran in and forced the eldest, Zach Crain, outside. Zach’s brother and sister had already made it out of the house, but Zach was looking for his dog, unaware his pet had already made it out.
“This makes me tear up to think about again, but Zach didn’t know our dog was out,” Mandy said. “He wouldn’t leave the house, and our neighbor Blake Shelby grabbed him and made him leave. That’s the kind of neighbors we have.”
Zach's materialistic world went ablaze. The senior Sterlington fullback’s championship ring from the baseball diamond, along with his letterman jacket he had earned just one-month prior, went up in smoke.
But Zach’s cherished championship memories rose from the ashes thanks to a Sterlington community that always takes care of its own. That was proven true two weeks ago when Zach bumped into Sterlington head baseball coach Mark Sims in the hallway of Sterlington High School.
“I thought I was in trouble,” Zach said. “I was just wondering what I did. Coach Sims then pulled out a box.”
Sims said he was visiting with principal Jason Thompson at the time when he saw Zach and surprised him with it.
“He opened it up and his eyes got like saucers,” Sims said. “It was a pretty emotional moment. He asked how much it was, and I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s taken care of.’”
Sims said a baseball player’s mother reached out, asking if they could all get together and pitch in to replace Zach's championship ring. But that was before Kevin and Becky Miller, who own Graduate Sales, stepped up and donated the item.
A week later, Mandy received a call at the school the Millers were waiting to see her.
“They were down there and they had his jacket,” Mandy said. “I started crying. It seems like something that’s not that big of a deal, but they just gave it to us. It’s not that we couldn’t afford it. But they didn’t even ask for anything in return.”
This time, Mandy got to surprise her son. She had Zach go on the other side of the car and hold his arms out. That’s when she laid the jacket in his arms. Zach put it on one day after he rushed for a touchdown in a 39-14 Thursday night victory against the Richwood Rams. It was the first time he ever wore it, as his other jacket was still in the plastic it came in when it was lost in the fire.
And yes, it was rare for Zach to wear his letterman jacket on a Friday evening, while he checked out the West Monroe vs. Neville game. This Friday he will be sporting something much different, as Zach suits up for the Panthers against a Union team that’s determined to give Sterlington its first loss in District 2-3A.
Zach is no stranger to what the Farmers bring to the table. In fact, last year, he got his first start at tailback in place of an injured Dallas Reagor. Zach generated 97 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown scamper, on 17 carries in last year’s 18-17 victory.
“The Union game last year was my favorite moment here at Sterlington so far,” said Zach, who rushed for 695 yards and 10 scores in 2019. “I always rotated in a lot, but that was the first time I ever got a full start. It was nerve wracking because everybody was messing with me. ‘Don’t fumble, Zach.’ They’re an intimidating team. Me and (quarterback) Grant Mangrum have already started talking about how we have to turn it up this week.”
Zach more than held onto the ball, as he chipped away at Union's physical front. He caught the coaching staff's eye with his play.
"His toughness really stood out in that game," Sterlington head coach Lee Doty said. "He had a willingness to stick it up in there and get those tough yards. He's a very unselfish player. When we weren't sure if we were going to play or not, Zach was one of those guys I thought about. It would have been devastating if he didn't get to play his senior year. There's a lot of special things about him."
Zach made the switch from tailback to fullback this season in a selfless move that Doty said was made to get the Panthers’ best 11 on the field at the same time. Zach welcomed the move, as he embraced the physicality of Sterlington’s veer offense that utilizes the fullback like a sledgehammer. And Sims thinks Zach fits the mold well.
“That’s where it starts,” Sims said. “You have to stop the fullback in the veer. On the defensive side, I don’t get to watch much of what they’re doing, but I know he’s a load to tackle. He’s a hard runner, and he’s the same way on the baseball field. He always played full out, 100 percent.”
The Crain family is currently living in a rent house with house floor plans and designs completed. Over the past few months, a fundraiser started on Facebook has raised nearly $54,000 for the family’s personal emergency fund.
The outpouring by the community and reactions of their neighbors led to the Crain family wanting to rebuild in the same spot as their old house, and the bids have already been sent out.
Mandy said the family hoped to have those bids returned by the end of the week. The family looks forward to receiving those, along with another hard-fought Sterlington victory over Union at this week’s end.
"Union is always our strongest competitor," Mandy said. "I'm hoping the whole team has great game like last time. It's going to be a tough one."
Sterlington fans don't have to worry about their fullback. He's already proven his toughness on and off the field.