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Calaveras JV Football Player Is Lucky To Be Alive

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Sonora, CA — It is a parent’s worst nightmare—a child facing a life-threatening injury.

That is what Frank Alves and his family lived through at the Summerville Homecoming game on Friday, September 30. During the junior varsity game, his 14-year-old son Derek, a Calaveras RedHawk freshman corner starter, filled in for an offensive player. He blocked during a running play and hit head-to-head with another player. When the helmets collided, he broke his C-5 vertebrae.

Frank says he did not know that Derek had been hurt until a person in the crowd yelled, “Frank, Frank, Derrek, the coaches are looking for you.”

Panicked, Alves and his wife, Tammy, Derek’s stepmother, raced to the sidelines.

“He couldn’t keep his head up because his neck wouldn’t hold his helmet. So he grabbed his helmet and kept his head in place,” recounted Frank Alves. “Then he did the worst thing you could do and pulled his own helmet off.”

Alves says it was like everything went into slow motion. It was surreal, and he can still see the fear on the faces of the coaches, players, and crowd. Once he saw Derek, he was hyperventilating from the pain.

“I started to ask him, Can you feel your fingers? and he could, and he had a grip still. So, I knew he was not paralyzed from the neck down, and he was able to feel his feet. Thank God he was not paralyzed instantly,” remembers Alves.

While Derek was on the gurney waiting to be flown to U.C. Davis Children’s Hospital with his stepmom by his side, Alves relayed this exchange between himself and Derrek: “I was crying, and I saw him roll his eyes back towards me, and he said, ‘Baby.’ Laughing, Alves says he felt a little bit of relief that Derrek’s humor remained.

Following in the car with Derek’s step-sister, Mekynzie, it was about an hour and a half to the hospital, but it was the “longest driver ever,” according to Alves. While traveling, he got the news from the doctors that “as of right now, he is a very fortunate young man that he is not paralyzed or worse.”

With his voice cracking, Alves added, “You just can’t believe this has happened. Then you start praying. You start praying that he is going to continue to be able to feel his feet and walk. Use his hands and lead a normal life.” After Derek went through a two-hour MRI the next day, the family’s prayers were answered when the neurosurgeon told them he would recover.

“When they [the surgeons] came in and said that he has all the use of his extremities and he should be able to walk and function fairly normally, I was ecstatic. We broke down in tears,” shared Alves, who added that it took a huge weight off of their shoulders.

The Alves family (L to R) Sister Mekynize, Derek, Frank and Tammy
The Alves family (L to R) Sister Mekynize, Derek, Frank and Tammy

The surgeons then stated that it was going to be a long, painful road ahead for Derek, noting that this is not an easy recovery. That is when family friend Autumn Fox sprang into action. With their permission, she started a GoFundMe page, which states, “Sadly, Derek will never be able to play football again. This family is extremely humble and would never ask for financial help.” Fox advises that the family will be facing not only the medical bills but also the loss of work for the next three months as they care for Derek.

“At that time, I wasn’t even thinking about the financial burden. I was focused on Derek. For them to take that burden off of us. It’s huge,” remarked Alves. “It gives you absolute hope in humanity that there are still so many good people out there.

So far, through the community’s generosity, the fund has raised $6,560. Click here to view the online GoFundMe page.

“I just want to thank everybody for their thoughts and prayers and the donation. It’s unbelievable. We’re really shocked, actually, by the support we’ve gotten from everybody. These close-knit mountain communities are filled with people like that. It’s hard to explain how grateful we are.”

  • Derek Alves freshman on the JV Calaveras football team
  • Derek being flown with stepmom Tammy to hospital
  • Derek in the hospital with parents