Turnout for Tay: Community rallies around, prays for injured Ashland student-athlete

Apr. 15—ASHLAND — Ashland football coach Chad Tackett FaceTimed junior Atayveon "Tay" Thomas so the 17-year-old could witness the outpouring of support for the hospitalized teen.

Students, teachers, coaches and community members showed up in droves to encircle the soccer field inside Rex Miller track after school on Monday to pray for Tay.

From a bed in Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Thomas said, "I want to thank you all, and let you know I'm pushing through it," as Tackett held the microphone up to his phone.

Thomas suffered serious spinal cord injuries as a result of a car accident on Saturday night in Huntington. Thomas is paralyzed from the waist down, according to Kyra Mays, his guardian. After being flown from Cabell Huntington to Nationwide, he had successful surgery Sunday night to prevent paralysis from traveling up the spinal cord to his neck. Tackett said it was about a four-hour surgery.

Two football teammates were in the car with Thomas on Saturday. They sustained minor injuries. Thomas was driving.

According to Mays, a stranger passing by stopped and pulled one of the boys out of the car. The stranger and Thomas' friend pulled Thomas out.

Mays posted on Facebook that Thomas fractured his back and severed his spinal cord and will never walk again.

One of his teammates involved in the wreck was at school on Monday.

"He's pretty shaken up," Tackett said. "Everybody is emotional."

Tackett called for a team meeting at 9:15 a.m. Monday.

"I wanted to get the guys together as soon as possible," Tackett said. "I wanted them to get the exact details of what was going on, and put my arm around them, put our arms around each other. We had a good team prayer. I told them that I love them and we're going to honor him through our work — not only in the weight room but in the classroom and on the field. The best thing we can do is honor him through hard work."

Ashland's football team had a workout on Monday dedicated to Thomas.

The junior is a "model student," according to Tackett. He has a 3.8 grade-point average.

Tackett, assistant coach Scott Miller and Jim Conway, the school's athletic director, all remarked about Thomas's connection with kids.

"As big, strong and intense as he is, he's got a soft heart," Tackett said. "He's a fine young man. Young kids idolize him."

Conway said he and coaches talk to their athletes about being role models for children, and Thomas epitomizes that.

"He's understood what that means so soon," Conway said. "It shows the maturity in him and what he's about."

Miller said Thomas' work ethic is difficult to match.

"Great young man," said Miller, who's coached him since freshman football.

Miller visited Thomas on Sunday afternoon at Cabell.

"He was alert; he knew I was there, talked to me for a little bit. He said, 'Coach, we're going to get through this.' I said, absolutely, we're going to get through this. I'll be right there with you through it."

Ashland Independent students donned maroon and white to honor Thomas on Monday.

Sadie Chaffins, Thomas' track teammate, organized Monday's gathering.

"I was not expecting this turnout," Chaffins said over the PA. Then again, she acknowledged, considering it was a rally for Thomas, she wasn't surprised.

"We decided to invite the whole community," she said.

Chaffins will set up her business — Sadie Jane's Lemonade — on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Ashland baseball complex. Both the baseball and softball teams have home games. One-hundred percent of the proceeds will go to Thomas' family to help with travel and medical expenses.

Chaffins led a prayer, during which she asked God to work miracles in Thomas, as people held hands and tears seeped through closed eyes. A few smaller circles formed following the main prayer to extend time with a higher power. Tomcats and non-Tomcats embraced one another and shared their admiration for the young man for whom they gathered.

"We love you, Tay!" the crowd said in unison at Tackett's prompt, with Thomas still on FaceTime.

Tackett said he was "not shocked" at the turnout but said, "This is amazing."

"I think it says a lot about the human being he is," Conway said. "Tay is just one of those people that people gravitate to."

On the football field, Thomas has been an "Alpha dog," according to Tackett. In 2023, Thomas was the second-leading rusher with 776 yards on 74 carries. He had six touchdowns on the ground and one receiving TD.

Thomas, who wears No. 1, racked up 41 tackles, including a team-best 10 tackles for loss, last fall.

Thomas was beginning to garner high-profile college looks.

"He's not only the strongest kid on our team, but he's the most intense player on our team. He's the most physical player on our team," Tackett said.

"Tay has really made something of himself, through hard work and dedication," the coach added. "To see this happen to him is really hard to stomach."

Tackett was at Cabell on Sunday with Thomas, Mays, Thomas's mother, Cassie Menshouse, and others. He plans to visit him in Columbus soon.

Tackett said the support has extended well beyond Ashland. Several area coaches reached out to him.

"We appreciate everybody's prayers," he said.

A number of businesses have created events or methods of donating to the Thomas family.

One of Thomas' cousins set up a GoFundMe — "Support Tay's Journey to Recovery" at

(606) 326-2664 —