Fambrough: Mother’s Day has special meaning for Warrick Dunn

Associated Press file photo by JOHN BAZEMOREFormer Catholic High running back Warrick Dunn spent 12 years in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Associated Press file photo by JOHN BAZEMOREFormer Catholic High running back Warrick Dunn spent 12 years in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mother’s Day has a different meaning for each of us.

Few people try to turn it into a lasting a tribute the way Warrick Dunn has.

The former Catholic High football and track star has come a long way since Jan. 7, 1993 — the day his mother, Baton Rouge police Cpl. Betty Smothers, was shot and killed while working an off-duty security job.

Dunn became a star at Florida State and ran for 10,967 yards and 49 touchdowns in 12 NFL seasons. Dunn has earned a master’s degree in business and is known for his good works through his Warrick Dunn Charities.

Though he now lives in Atlanta, Baton Rouge and Louisiana are never far removed from Dunn’s heart. He spent Sunday hosting a Mother’s Day Brunch and Market Fundraiser at the Lake House.

The brunch and fundraiser brought attention to Betty’s Hope, a support group to help children ages 5-18 who are grieving the loss of a parent of other loved one.

“Baton Rouge taught me what it means to give,” Dunn said. “People who didn’t know us contributed to a fund that helped my family make it after my mother died. I’ll never forget that.

“It’s important to give back and to approach things with a passion. This is something I believe in. Hopefully, we can have this event for many years to come.”

Dunn was the oldest of six children when Betty Smothers died. All the siblings are now grown and have their own families. Dunn also has a 2-year-old son.

Like most of us who have lost a parent, Dunn wonders what his mother would think about the things he’s done.

This return to Baton Rouge was a little bittersweet for another reason. The benefit took place on the weekend of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s State Outdoor Track and Field meet.

Track was Betty Smothers’ sport. She was a former hurdler who made sure her children were active in the KY Track Club and was a member of the Southern University Track and Field Officials Association.

Four months after her death, Dunn helped Catholic High win a Class 5A state track title as a senior. His younger sister, Summer, helped Southern Lab do likewise in Class 1A. That always seemed like a very symbolic tribute.

Much as changed in the past 21 years in Baton Rouge and other places. Coaches call the current crop of athletes the “Me Generation,” as in everything is about me and not the team. Stories about parents badgering coaches about playing time, what position a child plays, etc.

I asked Dunn for his thoughts about children and teens in sports today. He doesn’t get the whole entitlement thing. Dunn was, after all, a little guy who played with a chip on his shoulder because he wanted to prove people wrong. And to be everything his mother wanted him to be.

“You have to be willing to work, sacrifice and take advantage of the opportunities you get,” Dunn said. “Those chances aren’t always given to you. When you sacrifice and are willing to give everything for the team, you become the best you can be.”

Now that’s a real Mother’s Day tribute.