Talon Haley and Ethan LaMontagne are living proof of Babe Ruth’s legendary words: “It’s hard to beat the person who never gives up.”
The tenacity and courage of these two young athletes were on full display this past week at Trustmark Park during the Mississippi High School Baseball Championships.
For those who have not heard about the bond between Haley and LaMontagne, it all started at the beginning of the 2023 high school baseball season. But the unlikely encounter of these two young men was an amazing gift from God – a gift to them and those around them.
But to fully appreciate this gift, it helps to understand the complete improbability of these two Mississippi athletes ever meeting each other, much less forging a lasting friendship.
To begin with, Talon Haley is a sophomore at Lewisburg High School, a large Class 6A school in DeSoto County, Mississippi. Haley plays for the Lewisburg Patriots. He is a left-handed pitcher who already committed to playing for Vanderbilt last year as a freshman.
Ethan LaMontagne is a freshman at East Union Attendance Center, a small 2A school in Blue Springs, Mississippi. While LaMontagne played every game for East Union’s Junior Varsity Urchins, he was mainly a courtesy runner for the high school team.
It’s rare for schools located 75 miles apart to get a chance to compete against each other, and it’s even more unusual for 6A baseball teams to play 2A squads. But East Union is not the typical small school team; they are a baseball powerhouse. They have built their program around honing skills, pushing themselves, and pursuing excellence. Consequently, they seek out and play teams from larger schools.
Especially in the early season before division play begins, it is not unusual for East Union to play 5A and 6A teams. Sometimes, the Urchins give those big teams more than they bargained for and beat them. But other times, the Urchins take the loss and learn from it.
That was the case back in February when East Union faced Lewisburg for the very first time on the Urchins’ home field.
But the Urchins were having a tough start to their season. LaMontagne had just discovered the return of a brain tumor surgically removed a year or so earlier. It was a sobering time for the Urchin players who come from a tight-knit, loving community. So, their coach contacted the Lewisburg coach to give him a heads-up on what LaMontagne and his teammates were facing.
What happened that sunny February day was the stuff baseball legends are made of – seriously.
The Patriots got off their bus, put their equipment in the visitor’s dugout, and headed out on the field, asking if they could pray for LaMontagne and his team. When the prayer huddle between these unlikely opponents broke away, there was not a dry eye among the spectators outside the fence.
But what happened next was even more breathtaking.
Talon Haley stayed on the field with Ethan LaMontagne and shared the story of warring and winning his own fight against cancer. Born out of personal adversity, Haley’s words spoke truth and hope to LaMontagne. And when those two warriors left the field linked arm in arm, their link grew stronger and tighter as the year progressed.
Haley’s family also forged a friendship with the LaMontagne family. They kept up with Ethan and encouraged him through his surgery and subsequent radiation treatments. It was a relationship that helped Ethan forge ahead in his fight against cancer.
Like Talon before him, Ethan never let it keep him off the baseball field. He simply left those rounds of radiation and headed straight back to practice and games to support and encourage his Urchin teammates. And as he fought his battle quietly and courageously, LaMontagne helped his teammates fight hard too.
But then, as an unbelievable but appropriate end to the 2023 Mississippi high school baseball season, their friendship came full circle at Trustmark Park this week when both of these young Mississippi athletes warred and won another battle.
Talon Haley and the Lewisburg Patriots are our Mississippi 6A High School Baseball Champions!
And … Ethan LaMontagne and the East Union Urchins are our Mississippi 2A High School Baseball Champions!
Two gold medals for two gold-medal young men.
And I just have to believe that if the Great Bambino were alive, he would tip his baseball hat to these two athletes, because he always said, “Baseball is the greatest game in the world and deserves the best you can give it.”
Thank you, Talon Haley and Ethan LaMontagne, for giving the game of baseball your very best this year.
For your teammates, coaches, fans, and families, you made the 2023 Mississippi high school baseball season absolutely unforgettable.
You warred, you won, and we were privileged to watch.
Congratulations, Talon and Ethan!
To read more about the day Talon Haley and Ethan LaMontagne first met, click here.