CULLMAN, Ala. – As the gates opened Thursday evening at Oliver Woodard Stadium for Cullman High School’s first regular season game of the year, everything seemed normal. The Cullman and Grissom football teams were warming up on the field, the smell of popcorn filled the air and young kids were poised for a possible roll down the grassy hill. While the sights, sounds and smells were normal; it just felt different.
The passing of 17-year-old senior Will Fowler weighed heavy on the hearts and minds of everyone. Everything about this game reflected how much he was loved and admired by all who knew him and even by those who didn’t. One of the things that made Will special was that he was often an inspiration to even those who didn’t know him personally.
Will was a beloved member of the Cullman High School Bearcat Band, as well as a dedicated and fearless leader. He was a section leader of the band’s front ensemble and under his leadership, his section was recently named “best section” at the conclusion of band camp.
Cullman High School Band Director Christopher Smith said of Will, “Will Fowler was one of the most amazing students that I have ever had the honor of teaching. His work ethic, positive attitude, determination and compassion for others were unparalleled. He was everything you would want out of a band student. I will miss him every day and I will strive to be the kind of person that he was. His example will live on in the Cullman Band forever.”
“Be Like Will” has quickly become the mantra at Cullman High School and the unity displayed at Thursday night’s game from the entire student body embodied his kindness, compassion and positivity. In the student section, the boys all wore blue bandanas and the girls wore blue ribbons in their hair. Blue was Will’s favorite color, so much so that even his motorized wheelchair was blue.
As principal Kim Hall escorted Will’s parents, Jason and Jana, into the stadium, representatives of the Cullman High School student body presented them with a beautiful vase of flowers. As they made their way to their seats next to where the band would soon be, one couldn’t help but be in complete awe of their strength while simultaneously realizing the enormous blessing our children are.
Two large wreaths were placed on the band’s platform–just a couple of feet from where Will would typically sit with his band mates; one wreath from the school and another from his “brothers and sisters of the Cullman High School Drum Corp.” Banners were hung on the fence near the band from the CHS cheerleaders and the CHS art students honoring Will.
As the band made final preparations before entering the stadium, they knew that every step they took, every note they played, every toss of the flag and every beat of the drum would be for him. They knew that Will would expect the show to go on.
Rather than leaving the field for the locker room prior to pre-game festivities, the Cullman Bearcat football team lined the north arc of the track. This one single gesture of appreciation and support brought tears to the eyes of many. The band made its way around the track as everyone in the stadium stood with broken hearts, in total admiration. For the first time since 2018, Will was not present at the end of the line, though to say he wasn’t there at all would be untrue.
The band brought Will’s cymbal that he would play as the band performed in the stands. They placed it in front of the wreaths that stood as a visual reminder of the young man with the biggest smile and kindest heart. As the band got settled in for the game, Jason and Jana did what they have always done–took care of the kids, as they began passing out waters and passing out ponchos.
Before halftime, the band warmed up and Mr. Smith raced to the press box, pausing at Will’s cymbal and placing his hand on it. Will’s parents were seated on the sideline. This year’s show features a medley of songs by Billy Joel including “Only the Good Die Young.” After playing the first two portions of their 2021 show, the band paused as Mr. Smith spoke to the crowd about the wonderful young musician, scholar, student and friend. He reminded everyone to be more like Will.
The band then played the Cullman High School Alma Mater in his honor. As the band exited the field, only the sound of the single drumbeat could be heard. Both Cullman and Grissom stood in silence, the cheerleaders stood arm and arm, the student section comforted each other and, in those moments, everyone’s thoughts were undivided.
Afterwards, Will’s band mates slowly returned to the stands. Their faces were tear-streaked and with the performance behind them, the emotions surfaced. They had just delivered a flawless performance- all for Will.
William “Will” George Fowler, age 17, of Cullman, Alabama passed away on Tuesday, August 17, 2021. Will was born October 29, 2003 to Jason and Jana Fowler. He is preceded in death by his grandparents: Virgil B. Fowler Jr., Marian M. Fowler, Cleon M. Fowler and uncle: Virgil Paul Fowler.
Will was a member of The National Honor Society, he played in the Cullman Middle School Band for two years and he played in the Cullman High School Band for three years. Will was also an avid Star Wars fan.
A celebration of life funeral service will be Saturday, August 21, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, with Pastor John Bussman officiating. William will lie in state at the church from 9 a.m. until service time. Interment will follow services in Cullman City Cemetery.
Survivors are parents: Jason and Jana Fowler; grandmother: Dorothy S. Fowler; aunt: Sandre (Paul) McNeal and Sara (Rick) Getsay and cousins: Benjamin McNeal, Stephen McNeal, Shannon McNeal, Henry Getsay and Charlie Getsay.
Visitation was Friday, August 20, 2021 at Moss Service Funeral Home from 6:00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family request donations be made to Cullman High School Band Boosters.
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