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Mars family covets Philly tradition
By TYLER CLEVELAND
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 1:00 AM
Five generations of the Mars family have lettered in football at Philadelphia High School. Front row, from left, William Mars, Abe Mars, Mont Mars and Fent Mars. In back are James Mars, Adam Mars and Dan Mars.
Traditions are important in the Mars family.
Five generations of Mars men have lettered in football at Philadelphia High School. It started with James Montgomery Mars, the great-grandfather to Abe and Fent Mars who recently graduated from Philadelphia.
William Montgomery "Mont" Mars followed his father and his sons, Dan and James, followed him. Dan's sons, William and Adam, played with the Tornadoes as did James's sons, Abe and Fent, who graduated this spring.
"We as a family have always gone to Philadelphia and played football there, said Dan Mars. "Mont's father played there and Mont played there on an 11-0 state championship team. James and I played there and my sons played there in the 1990s.
"Abe and Fent have just finished at Philadelphia and I am so proud of them. I saw all of their games. Mont played on the state championship team but those two were the best in our family," Dan Mars said.
And along with playing football, the two younger Mars started another family tradition during the 2013 season. On Thursday nights prior to Friday games, they, along with their parents, James and Kim Mars, would drive from Philadelphia to the Mont Mars' farm where he raises horses.
There, they'd sit and visit for hours on end, mostly taking football.
In a time when high schoolers and their grandparents have less and less to talk about, the Mars had no such problems - especially 18-year-olds Fent and Abe and 76-year-old Mont, their grandfather. Through those Thursday night visits, the trio strengthened an already-iron bond, and under the toughest of circumstances.
No doubt, both were outstanding football players. Fent, a middle linebacker, made his senior year his best, and led a Tornado defense which allowed 93 points in 13 games. Abe, a tight end, caught 14 passes for 230 yards and four touchdowns and helped, with his blocking, to pave the way for 41 more.
The second thing you need to know is the duo loves their grandaddy, who has battled stage-four lung cancer since he was first diagnosed three years ago. Mont has had quite the impact on his two grandsons, who both went through orientation recently at Ole Miss.
"He's one of the craziest guys I know," Fent Mars said. "He's hilarious, and everyone knows him. If you go out to his farm on the weekends - Saturday and Sundays - you might be the first one there, but soon someone else will show up, then another, and another. After a while, the whole family is there. We've always been tight, but especially this past year, we've been real close."
Sometime during the past year, those Thursday nights at Mont's farm became something much more than a weekly visit. It was like medicine. Mont had a certain shine to him, and, at least while the boys were there, his health situation didn't seem so bad.
The boys and their grandfather talked about girls and school, but more than anything, the subject of conversation always seemed to center on football. Mont and James both played at PHS, and that shared experience brought them together every week.
"We didn't have practice on those Thursday afternoons before games," Fent Mars said. "So we'd go out there late in the afternoon, and just sit and talk for hours. He'd ask us about who we were playing and which players on that team were good. We'd break it down for him."
As the season progressed, more family and friends started showing up for the weekly ritual. By the end of the season, 15 people - some of whom weren't even related to the family - were regularly showing up.
Each week, they'd talk about what was going on with the team, eat some of Grandma Dawn's excellent cooking and end the night with a rousing rendition of the PHS fight song.
The next night, Mont would attend the games, and watch as his grandsons and their Tornado teammates decimated opponent after opponent.
Philadelphia rattled off an 10-1 regular season, with their only loss coming at the hands of eventual 3A Champion Louisville. They beat Velma Jackson 29-0 in the playoffs before falling to Wilkinson County in the second round.
Mont was in attendance for all of it. Home or away; it didn't matter. He was going to be there, soaking up the joy of watching the boys do what they love. It made him proud, and seemed to take his mind off of the terrible disease he had struggled with for three years.
Likewise, the experience of watching their grandfather fight off poor health to attend their games did something to the twin brothers - it turned them into men.
"Those two are the kind of players that it's a pleasure to coach," Philadelphia football coach Teddy Dyess said. "They give no quarter on the football field, and they are both intelligent players and students. When it came to them, I never had to worry about effort on the field or in the classroom for that matter."
One day at school, Dyess said, Kim showed him a video she had taken with her camera phone of the whole family out at Mont's singing the fight song.
"It was an unbelievable video," he remembered. "It's been a pretty tough process for the family, but they didn't miss a Thursday night. Those boys are the third generation of that family to play here, and you can tell that wearing the red and black meant a lot to all of them."
Around the new year, just after football season, James said Mont's health started to falter.
The endless rounds of chemotherapy and medicine had devastated his immune system, and although the doctors said the cancer hadn't progressed, the treatment was making it harder for him to stay perpetually active, as he has been his whole life.
"I didn't realize at the time how important it was to him," James said. "His whole demeanor changed when he didn't have those Thursday and Friday nights to look forward to. Sitting around the house is the equivalent of going to Hell for him, and that's what he's having to do. It breaks my heart every single day."
With the season over, it was clear Mont needed a new goal, so he set one - to see Fent and Abe graduate and become college students.
The Mars are happy to report that he reached that goal as well. Mont was in attendance when the brothers walked across the stage during the Philadelphia High School Commencement and received their diplomas in May.
"It has meant so much to him, I can't really describe it in words," Fent said. "He wanted so badly to watch us play and graduate. We could tell he didn't always feel good, but he sucked it up to be there to experience it all with us."
And Mont's not through. He can't be - there's more to come. James eldest son Sam's baby is due in September.
"Now he's looking forward to that," James said. "He wants to be there when the baby is born."
If the past year is any indication, it would be hard to bet against him.
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JOSHUA S. LADD
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