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Strength to carry: Friday nights light up brother-sister relationship

The sure hands of Sacovie White, a top football recruit who will play for Georgia next year, are put to family use in carrying his sister, Caroline. Photo from Helton family

CASSVILLE, Ga. (BP) — On a football field, there’s little Sacovie White cannot do.

At 5’9” 170 lbs. of muscled fast-twitch, the wide receiver/defensive back for Cass High School has been dropping jaws of fans, opponents and recruiters for years. It brought a 2022 commitment to play for the two-time defending champion Georgia Bulldogs.

The Heltons pose with UGA football coach Kirby Smart. Photo from Helton family

Those skills were on display Sept. 9 as White and his Colonels faced county rival Adairsville.

The video moves fast. Lined up on the left side, White turns toward the quarterback on the snap and takes a pass at the line of scrimmage. One defender is already there and ready to level the wideout at his hips but White, though facing the opposite direction, spins out of a would-be vicious hit. Four steps, a hard foot plant and juke puts two more on the turf. Shifting past a linebacker, White splits between two more Tigers, carrying one into the end zone as another arrives late.

That’s 12 yards through seven defenders in six seconds.   

It’s classic Americana, with Friday night lights and the band playing and crowds cheering. Another addition to the highlight reel.

One of White’s biggest fans joins in the celebration. She sits in a wheelchair, as her mobility is severely limited. She requires a lot of care and does things that make other teenagers uncomfortable, like drooling a lot at times. She can’t speak, but boy, can she communicate.

And she is intensely proud and protective of her brother, as he is of her.

Finding family

Complications at birth left Caroline Helton, 21, with physical challenges related to muscle development and motor movement. She has a solid Christian home with her parents, Shep and Andrea, and younger siblings, Ava and Zeke.

Sisters and brothers pick at each other, like Caroline and Sacovie do on car trips. Photo from Helton family

She got another brother four years ago named Sacovie.

He was one of Andrea’s eighth grade students, a stud of an athlete who needed guidance. Andrea and others noticed he was slipping in school and, after talking with Shep, asked Sacovie’s mother if it was OK for him to stay with them. She gave her permission, and Sacovie hasn’t left since. He and Zeke share a room.

Soon, it became perfectly natural for him to appear in family photos, at church and on vacation with the Heltons.

“Sacovie is more of an introvert,” said Andrea. “He prefers to keep to himself. When he first came here, we had made it a point to eat together as much as possible. Whenever we do that, we circle up in the kitchen first to pray.”

On one of those first prayer circles, everyone grabbed the hand of the person beside them as usual. Caroline was beside Sacovie. Many people don’t know how to approach Caroline, so Sacovie extended his hand to hers on the wheelchair arm rest and asked in the way a brother would.

“Gimmee your hand, thug,” he said.

“We all busted up laughing,” said Andrea. “It took the pressure off and was so funny. That encapsulates their relationship.”

Carrying one another

One can be carried figuratively and literally. Both versions signal trust, vulnerability and responsibility among all involved.

It was significant when Sacovie became worthy of the role.

“Shep trusts me to pick her up and move her,” he said. “But I had to get to know her.”

Sacovie is now one of those who carry Caroline where her chair won’t take her.

Sacovie White, a four-year starter for the Cass Colonels in White, Ga., will trade in his uniform for a red-and-black one in Athens next year. Photo by William Bramlett, The Daily Tribune News

“It’s for whenever we go out, to and from the car. Before we got help, Zeke and I would get her from the school bus. Doing that has benefitted her, but also me,” said Sacovie.

When Sacovie volunteers for the STARS program at Cartersville First Baptist Church, he often encounters jealousy from Caroline when he plays with other kids.

“I’ve been around special needs kids, but none as intelligent as her,” he said. “She’ll make noise to let me know she sees me. If I ask her if she wants me to play with her, she smiles,” he said. “She knows what she’s doing.”

They tend to be in each other’s orbit on family trips, whether in the car or on a boat. It’s not unusual for Caroline to mess with Sacovie, like the time she pulled his air pod out of his ear. If she drools, he’ll tell her that’s disgusting, so she’ll do it more while looking at him and laughing.

“Sacovie will defend Caroline if her brother or sister tells her to hush,” Andrea said. “But then he’ll ask her why she’s crying. At first he would feel sorry for her, but then learned you can’t do that for her.

“Obviously, we all hate that she can’t move. He likes to make her laugh, and any way he can do that, like pushing her fast in her stroller, he does.”

Through CFBC’s STARS program, Sacovie works with children with special needs.

“It’s fun and entertaining. You don’t ever want to leave a child unhappy or sad,” he said.

Those relationships and his with Caroline give him an edge in motivation on the athletic field. Sacovie has zero patience with others taking plays off.

“I think about her all the time, how she would do anything to be able to move around like us,” he said. “She’d love to be able to get up for a 6 a.m. practice.

“I take it personal when kids are out there not trying. They’re taking it for granted and not giving it their all. I know someone at home who can’t do any of those things.”

Giving forward

Marianne Forsyth’s death impacted the youth group at Cartersville First Baptist Church, with White honoring her memory in wearing special cleats against Woodland High. He presented those shoes to her son, Andy, also a member of CFBC’s youth group and a WHS senior, after the game. Photo from Helton family

In many ways Sacovie had never seen someone like Shep Helton. The latter is as country as cornbread and buttermilk. He quotes Jerry Clower and Andy Griffith almost as well as he can Scripture. A successful lawyer by trade, he’s more comfortable in overalls.

Shep is also head of a family that Sacovie knows has impacted him tremendously.

“They all do different things for me,” Sacovie said. “Ava, Zeke and Caroline help me be a better person. Andrea teaches me how to interact with people, easily the hardest thing for me. Shep is being a dad to me and teaching me how to be a leader and young man.”

The appreciation runs both ways. Two years ago, a fight broke out in the school cafeteria, a bad one. One of Shep’s fears is what happens to Caroline if she’s caught in the middle of something like that.

“Sacovie’s first thought that day was to find Caroline and protect her,” he said. “That meant a lot to me. It comforts me knowing he’s there with her. He’s protective of her and always knows where she is.”

That sense of protection and appreciation shows in other ways. Sacovie has spent a lot of time at the home of Alan and Marianne Forsyth, members of CFBC whose sons, JT and Andy, had become friends. The Forsyths were longtime children’s ministry leaders, and Alan has served as a deacon and elder.

Early this year, Marianne experienced health problems that brought a cancer diagnosis. It spread quickly, and the news of her death this summer was jarring. On Sept. 29, Sacovie wore special cleats with Marianne’s likeness on the side in her honor. The game was against another county rival, Woodland High.

JT Forsyth graduated from Woodland and is now at Sacovie’s next school, UGA. Andy Forsyth is a WHS senior and received Sacovie’s shoes, bearing his mom’s image, after the game.

It was also the night a homecoming crown was secured by the Helton house for the second straight year. Ava took the honor for queen last year. On Friday it was Sacovie, escorted by Andrea, being named king.

Later that night, his biggest fan saw the crown up close. Her look said a lot.

Intensely proud.