RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It was a cold Friday night on November 4th, Highland Springs football’s senior night against Patrick Henry.
The game itself was a big enough draw to fill the bleachers with loyal Springers fans, students and family members. Highland Springs was two games away from locking up the No. 1 seed in the 5A South playoffs, the same position they held in 2015 on their way to the football program’s first 5A state championship since 1961.
However, it’s the more intimate, personal moments that can sometimes get lost in the pageantry of high school football. On this particular night, Angela Johnson walked out with her son Chris Thaxton alongside her family to commemorate a successful four years of school and football. It was the first football game she’d seen in person since September when Highland Springs lost to Meadowbrook.
Angie, as she is most commonly known in the Highland Springs community, battled stage four bladder cancer for five months after being diagnosed in late June. Over the weekend on November 12th, she died at the age of 45.
“Her spirit has touched everyone,” says Karlos Johnson, husband to Angela over the last 10 years. “She was my right hand, everything I’ve done she’s been with me.”
Angie was known throughout the community as a passionate, strong, and supporting mother to her family and to local football ranging from rec league to high school. She worked hard to bring together the Springers’ Booster club, but never viewed her cancer as a weight on her shoulders. In fact, those close to her say she was even more determined to continue supporting football in the area.
“She always wanted to be involved,” Chris said. “She had the most spirit. If she was determined to do something for (Highland Springs football) she’s going to do it.”
Chris remembers his mom’s resolve and commitment and how it has helped form him into the young man he is.
“No matter what was going on, she always told me to just be strong. Be you, don’t change who you are,” Chris said.
So on November 4th, Angela Johnson in the midst of her fight with late-stage cancer, stood next to her son Chris, her husband Karlos and stood tall for three minutes, drawing upon all the strength she could muster. She then went back to the car and went home to rest.
“She said, ‘I made Chris a promise, I’m going,'” Karlos says through a chuckle.
Chris, for the first time since the season had begun, wore a purple shirt with the slogan, “Angie Strong.” He scored two touchdowns in Highland Springs’ 49-0 win over Patrick Henry on senior night, and Angie got to see her son honor her right here on the local news.
“It meant the most to me,” Chris said. “As long as my mother was there, she’s always been my biggest support. She could be a support crowd by herself.”
Now the Springers football team and the Highland Springs community, starting the following week at Varina, wears purple with “Angie Strong” on their chests, ready to fight the way Angela did in the face of uncertainty.
“We follow Chris’ lead,” says Loren Johnson, head coach of Highland Springs football. “Angie’s been an ambassador for a lot of different things in our community. She’s been one of the pillars of our community. The kids saw Chris wearing purple, so they wanted to wear the purple and support Chris.”
As Chris Thaxton and his team continue their march to back-to-back 5A state titles, the season now takes a new meaning. Trophies, records and stats look good on a shelf; the memory of winning for a cause and an idea can stand the test of time.
“I was sitting with her Wednesday,” says Chris, “and I said ‘Momma, we’re going to win another state championship. I’m going to bring you another necklace.’ That’s my goal, and that’s what I’m going to do.”