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WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2007
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Chris Marchbanks and Austin coach David Norwood watch the players during Tuesday's practice. The 29-year-old Marchbanks has been under the guardianship of David and Tracy Norwood since 1998.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Chris Marchbanks and Austin coach David Norwood watch the players during Tuesday's practice. The 29-year-old Marchbanks has been under the guardianship of David and Tracy Norwood since 1998.

'We're family'
Marchbanks takes his volunteer role with Austin football program seriously

By Brooke Milam
bmilam@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

Austin High football coach David Norwood vividly recalls the first time he met Chris Marchbanks — the 29-year-old whom he now calls his son.

It was 1994. Norwood was teaching special education at Walker High in Jasper and serving as an assistant football coach for the Vikings under head coach Bubba Davis, while Marchbanks was a manager for the team.

"I distinctly remember meeting him," Norwood said.

The detail-oriented Marchbanks remembers the day with the same clarity.

"I was in 10th grade. It was the 1994-95 school year," he said.

Indeed, it marked the start of a special relationship and close friendship between Marchbanks, an expert on high school football throughout the state, and Norwood, a driven high school football coach.

When Norwood arrived at Walker, Marchbanks was in special education classes, where he had been placed in fourth grade. However, Marchbanks was moved to regular classes in ninth grade and excelled to the point that he was just one course shy of earning an honors diploma from Walker in 1997.

The following summer, Norwood and his wife, Tracy, a Department of Human Resources worker, became the legal caretakers for Marchbanks, whose mother had died when he was a freshman in high school.

"Until that point, we took care of him, but really the whole community took care of him," Norwood said. "I told Tracy, 'We can fix this. We can give this boy some stability.' And we've never regretted that decision."

Added Tracy Norwood, with an affirmative nod: "Chris is wonderful."

After qualifying for a grant to attend Bevill State Community College, Marchbanks was able to complete his associate degree in microcomputer applications in 2001.

Tracy Norwood said Marchbanks was given the choice of moving into the Norwoods' home or staying in the dorms on the campus of Bevill State.

"At first, he didn't want to leave his friends in the dorm," she said. "But he'd leave all his important stuff at our house, and then he eventually decided that's what he wanted to do."

Computers serve as his informational source of choice, and Marchbanks said he checks the Internet every day for high school football knowledge.

"Our homepage on our computer is AL.com," Marchbanks said. "I read all the big papers every day and then I also read The Daily Mountain Eagle because that's my hometown paper in Jasper."

Marchbanks is at Austin High five days a week, assisting Curtis Biffle, who is in charge of Austin's work adjustment program and is also the statistician for Austin's football team.

And although Marchbanks takes his position at Austin seriously, Tracy Norwood said, “Chris would love to have a full-time job in his field.”

Marchbanks has proven himself as a reliable employee. While in high school, he worked at the local Quincy’s steakhouse and never missed a day of work.

When asked for some words to describe Marchbanks, Tracy Norwood said “committed, loyal and persistent” describe him best.

Not surprisingly, he was named “Most School Spirit” his senior year at Walker High.

Marchbanks said from the time he was a sixth-grader, he never missed a Walker football game. He’d go with his “Aunt Betty” to watch his cousin play in the marching band. But Marchbanks was focused on the game.

His interest escalated to the point that every Saturday was spent at the library, reading and soaking up how the Friday night games went.

If he didn’t have a ride from Norwood or another coach, he walked.

“Me or coach Tony Johnson, who’s now the head coach at Dora, drove him to the library every Saturday on our way to the fieldhouse to look at film,” Norwood said. “He’d read every sports page they had. And if we weren’t there to pick him up, he’d start walking and we’d have to get him somewhere along the way.”

Marchbanks said he’s always watched a lot of college and professional football on television but doesn’t have any favorite teams — he watches them all.

Still, he has no hesitation in saying high school football is his favorite.

“High school — it’s fun,” Marchbanks said. “You get the hotdogs. You know, real ball-game hot dogs.”

The Norwoods and Marchbanks kept their residence in Jasper through coaching stops at Shades Mountain and Gardendale, where Norwood was a head coach for two years, before the move to Decatur in 2004 for the head job at Austin.

It meant Marchbanks would leave his hometown of Jasper for the first time in his life, but the transition was a smooth one.

“I thought it was a good move because I can still go to Jasper,” said Marchbanks, who still visits his 81-year-old grandmother, Louise Smith, and other family members in Jasper one weekend of each month.

Marchbanks did the research on the Black Bears program before the move took place. And by the time he got to Decatur, he was already a walking history book for the 6A program.

“When we came here, I already knew a good share about Austin,” Marchbanks said. “I knew they went to the state championship game in 1983. I also knew the last time they had advanced in the playoffs was 1993. They beat J.O. Johnson (24-14). Yep, that’s been the last time we’ve advanced, but I think that’s going to change this year.”

Good news for the Black Bears: Marchbanks is rarely, if ever, wrong.

His spare time is mostly spent at Austin football practice, occasionally spending time around the Black Bears basketball practice, too. If there’s an Austin sporting event, Marchbanks is there. He said he’s interested in computers, sports and video games — specifically, sports video games.

Marchbanks walks the Austin sidelines Friday nights, only going up into the stands “if it’s a blowout,” he said.

“If it’s down to the wire, I stay on the sidelines because I shake the other teams’ hand, too.”

Marchbanks never has met a stranger. Anybody interested in a football game can get more information than they thought possible from him.

“You just meet him and you love him — that’s all there is to it,” Tracy Norwood said.

Tracy Norwood said Marchbanks is quick to remind people that he knew her husband before she did. The Norwoods married in 1996, when Marchbanks already had a special place in the coach’s heart.

Norwood and Marchbanks’ unique relationship began more than a decade ago because of football but has grown much deeper than sports.

“It’s not just football,” Tracy Norwood said. “It’s so much more than that. We’re family.”

At home, Marchbanks said he and the Black Bears head coach talk football “a little bit, but not every night.”

Norwood said it’s difficult to describe the state’s high school football super
fan.

Marchbanks has never put on a helmet or pads and taken the field. He’s never made a big tackle or scored a game-winning touchdown. But his passion and enthusiasm are what define high school athletics.

Marchbanks said it best himself with a smile: “I just love high school football that much.”

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