Cougars, sports help Howard family deal with tragic loss

Kevin Foote
The Daily Advertiser
St. Thomas More freshman quarterback Walker Howard (2) is surrounded by uncle, aunt, cousins and friends following Friday's win at Franklinton. Howard's mother, Kathryn, died of cancer on Thursday. His father, Jamie, played quarterback at St. Thomas More in the early 1990s and was the quarterback at LSU.


You train all year long, go through spring practices, sweat through all the summer workouts and just can’t wait for those special Friday nights under the lights.

Then life happens and sometimes you get the unpleasant reminder that it’s just a game.

In the big picture, all the effort, time and passion you put into this game called football doesn't matter as much as you think when these moments arise.

Or do they?

On Thursday, Kathryn Howard died after a two-year battle with cancer. She was the mother of St. Thomas More freshman quarterback Walker and the wife of the program’s most recognizable player ever in former LSU quarterback Jamie Howard.

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As a fitting gesture, STM’s offense took a delay of game on its first offensive play from scrimmage, kneeling in honor of her death to begin the Cougars’ 56-21 road win over Franklinton on Friday night.

“It was kind of to symbolize that the game stands still and that it’s just a game,” STM offensive coordinator Shane Savoie said. “To kind of shed light on the entire community not only for the love and affection we have for the Howard family, but for all of our family members who have been affected by cancer.

“Just a realization that it’s just a game and that sometimes the game needs to stop for us to recognize the real important things in life.”

Somehow, though, it’s in times like these when we realize how insignificant the final score of a game is that sports can become more important than we ever imagined.

In the middle of his family’s world being turned upside down throughout this painful process, Walker played in the game Friday.

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Savoie knew exactly how Walker felt.

You see, Savoie’s mother, Lillian, died of cancer when he was 18 years old. Those days of playing quarterback at STM in the 1990s while his mother fought provided some momentary periods of relief sprinkled around such a sorrowful time.

“For me as a player going through it, and I can see it in Walker," Savoie said. "It’s such a break from reality. Being at practice and being at the game, when you’re out there, it’s almost like there’s nothing else going on. You can just play football.

“I can see it in him. There’s such a peace and a break for him when he’s able to be out there. I experienced that as well. That was the meaning of sports and football for me when I went through that.”

And it goes beyond just Walker.

Jamie was a senior quarterback at STM while Savoie was a freshman.

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“Jamie was my idol,” Savoie said. “He was Mr. STM. I was at Fatima, and when I’d come to STM games, it was all about Jamie Howard. He was the face of the school and the (athletic) program at that time. He was that recognizable a figure at our school.”

All these years later, Savoie knew exactly what his childhood idol was now enduring as his wife battled cancer.

“That’s been a unique emotional tie with him,” Savoie said. “Just to be able to give him a point of reference. I can look at him and say, ‘Hey I know where you’re at. Here’s what’s coming next. Here’s going to be some of the things you’re going to be frustrated about.’

“Just trying to help him emotionally and trying to be there for him from a spiritual standpoint.”

St. Thomas More quarterback Walker Howard during junior varsity action earlier this season.


In addition to Walker, Jamie and Kathryn have three daughters — the older duo of Allyson and Meredyth and the younger Hillary.

 “Having a family of believers around you is really important in the healing process, not only for Walker but for his entire family,” Savoie said.

“Walker was ready to go,” STM head coach Jim Hightower said. “I think being out there with his teammates did him some good. I’m sure it helped me take his mind off of things. It was something kind of normal.”

St. Thomas More offensive coordinator Shane Savoie is part of the Cougars' community helping the family of freshman quarterback Walker Howard cope with the recent death of its mother Kathryn.

He’s currently starts on the Cougars’ freshman and junior varsity squads, and he’s now played a few snaps in three varsity games.

In time, the plan is for Walker to be the starting QB at STM someday, just like his famous father, who led the Cougars to the program’s first state semifinal appearance in 1991.

“Walker’s a little different than Jamie was,” said Hightower, who also coached Jamie. “Walker’s taller, more linear than Jamie was. Jamie kind of powered the ball when he threw it. Walker just launches the ball. He’s got a really quick release. It’s remarkable.

“We’ve had a lot of really good quarterbacks here, but I’m not sure the ball comes out of any of their hands quite like Walker’s, even (current starter) Caleb (Holstein).”

Now as the Howard family ends one painful part of its battle with cancer and begins another, sports — and the family atmosphere it provides — will no doubt play a more impactful role in the healing process than many ever realize.

St. Thomas More's offense takes a knee on its first play from scrimmage in honor of the death of the mother of freshman quarterback Walker Howard.