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Tramel: Loving on those who 'loved on' Haiti

A group of University of Oklahoma athletes visited Haiti this spring. The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel and freelance photographer Michael Davis present some thoughts, feelings and images that will stay with those athletes forever.
BY BERRY TRAMEL Modified: June 5, 2011 at 9:17 am •  Published: June 5, 2011
Sherri Coale says she will carry the image with her forever. A little Haitian boy, named DeSong, sitting atop Ben Habern’s shoulders, asleep, with the boy’s head resting on Habern’s head.

“We scream at ‘em when they drop a pass or miss a tackle,” Coale said. “And we clap real hard when they go to the national championship game.

“But to see those guys take off their shirt and wipe a snotty nose or wet it with a water bottle to wash some little feet, it was really an incredible thing to watch those guys, representing not just the University of Oklahoma, but themselves and their families…

“Publicly, I want to say ‘thank you.’”

Coale made the proclamation from the stage of the Addison Conference Center on Thursday during the OU Caravan in Dallas. She was talking to Habern and Whitney Hand, but also the other nine Sooner football players and the other nine OU women’s basketball players who made the mission trip to Haiti in May.

“Just going to a third-world country is very powerful,” said Habern, OU’s starting center. “How they survive every day. They’ve figured out a way to live.”

Habern said the group’s primary purpose was to “love on the kids.” The athletes also did some painting of houses, but the mission was simply to help provide hope.

Most of the kids, Habern said, didn’t have shirts. Some didn’t have pants. Most didn’t have shoes, although that didn’t prevent constant soccer games, including 5- and 6-year-olds who could perform bicycle kicks in the midst of a soccer game.

DeSong, probably three or four years old, walked up to Habern wanting to help him paint.

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