Fisher DeBerry still remembers those walks to the picture show in downtown Cheraw, S.C.
He strolled along Market Street beside his mother, Mildred, as they talked with excitement about the future. Mildred wanted her only child to grab everything he wanted from life. He would, she promised, graduate from college, secure a good job and raise a family.
Mildred’s hopes all came true. Her son graduated from Wofford College, married childhood sweetheart LuAnn and developed a quirky, run-obsessed offense known as The Fishbone that carried Air Force Academy to 17 winning seasons.
To honor his mother’s support, he created the Fisher DeBerry Foundation, which is overseeing the fourth annual Colorado Coaches for Charity fundraising dinner May 13 at Denver’s Invesco Field.
“My mother had such a deep commitment to me,” DeBerry said. “I knew she loved me and I knew she didn’t have a lot but I was so impressed with the sacrifices she made for me.”
What DeBerry remembers best from these walks is the conversation centered on his future, not his mother’s. Mildred, a single mother at a time when single mothers were rare in America, endured her share of struggles.
When Fisher was 1, his father departed the family, and by the time Fisher was 12 his father had died.
This might seem the prelude to a sad story. Only it’s not, because Mildred DeBerry fought so fiercely to eliminate pain and confusion from her son’s life.
Mother and son moved in with her parents, Fred and Mama Fisher. The Fisher home was by no means luxuriant, but it was filled with love and faith and discipline.
“I never had a lot of money but I was never denied anything,” DeBerry said. “My family gave me a lot of love.”
Growing up in what DeBerry describes as a “fractured” family left him with a heart for young men and young women in the same situation.
In his final decade as Air Force’s coach, he traveled the country looking for football players to fill his roster.
“I couldn’t believe the number of families that were splintered,” DeBerry said. “And each year, there were more and more and more young men who didn’t have a father figure in their lives.”
DeBerry knows the reality of a family led by a single mother. He remembers receiving letters from his mother when he was in college, and when he found two or three dollar bills folded into those letters from home, he knew Mildred had sent all the money she could spare.
His foundation works to ease the burden on single-parent homes, offering grants to young men and women.
It’s DeBerry's way of saying thanks to Mildred. It’s his way of remembering the woman who convinced him he could grab everything he wanted.
(For more information on the Fisher DeBerry Foundation and Colorado Coaches for Charity dinner, go to www.fisherdeberryfoundation.org or call 877-352-6224.)