Former Mustangs’ story has a familiar ring
Until last Sunday, Daniel Russell and Carol Lou Eldridge had never even heard of each other.
Eldridge, a retired second grade teacher having taught in the Wynne Public School system for 40 years, still lives in Wynne on Third Street – just off Union – in the same house built by her family in the 1930s.
Russell is a 2007 graduate of Forrest City High School and a former Mustang football player.
He earned Class 5A All-Conference and All-State honors following the 2006 football season as one of the best centers in the conference and state under then Mustang head coach Scott Reed.
What brought Russell and Eldridge together on Sunday is nothing short of a made-for-television script – with a familiar ring.
Two weeks before last Sunday’s meeting, Eldridge was working in her back yard – trimming, cleaning and raking – making final preparations to host her senior class’s 60th reunion.
In the farthest part of her backyard, which borders Second Street, Eldridge raked over something that didn’t sound quite right – more of a metal sound rather than the usual sound of the rake side-swiping a stick or rustling a pile of leaves.
As she bent to take a closer look, she discovered what she had hit with her rake was a ring, buried in mud and leaves. She knew right away the ring was not one of hers. What she didn’t know was how the ring ended up in her backyard.
Cleaning it up, Eldridge, along with her son, John Streeter, realized what they had was a 2006 All-State football ring – belonging to a Forrest City student.
“It had the Forrest City helmet engraved on the ring along with the letter ‘C’ and the number 51 and inscribed inside with a name,” Streeter said. “We could tell it was an All-State ring and belonged to a Forrest City football player wore jersey No. 51.”
Streeter said they had no idea what the ‘C’ stood for.
After graduating from Forrest City, Russell’s attempts to play college football never quite materialized due to a mix-up in getting the necessary paperwork to the college on time. Russell headed to West Memphis where he hooked up with a semipro football team and then eventually moved to Little Rock, where he now resides with his wife, Shamanda and her three daughters.
Sometime after graduating from Forrest City in 2007 and before meeting Shamanda, Russell realized his 2006 All-State ring was missing. Thinking back, he says he wasn’t sure where or what happened to the ring. As time passed, he more or less forgot about it.
Streeter, acting on behalf of his mother, made a couple of calls, eventually contacting the Times-Herald with news of his mother’s rather unusual find and seeking help in finding the person whose name was on the ring – Daniel Russell.
“My mother was not going to rest until she found the ring’s owner,” Streeter said. “So I knew I had to do whatever it took to locate the young man so she could return the ring.”
Several phone calls to Forrest City coaches who had coached Russell led to dead ends. Finally, a last-ditch radio appeal to anyone who might know where or how to get in touch with Russell, was successful. The search ended when Russell heard the radio plea by way of a relative and called the Times-Herald.
Russell was stunned when told of the news that a lady in Wynne had found his long-lost ring.
Working around everyone’s rather busy schedule, Russell was findly able to get to Forrest City and set up the visit with Eldridge at her Wynne home.
As soon as Russell walked through Eldridge’s front door, she grabbed and hugged Russell much like a mother would greet a son returning home after years of being absent from home and family. Eldridge was reluctant to let go of the young man she wanted so desperately to find.
Just as reluctant to let go of his prized possession, was an emotional Russell, after Eldridge handed him his ring and he immediately returned it to his finger.
“My lady is back,” Russell said referring to his ring. “It’s staying on my finger from now on.”
Russell was unable to shed any light as to how the ring ended up in Eldridge’s yard, saying only that he really didn’t care how it got there.
Eldridge was equally without answers as to how the ring came to rest in her back yard, underneath a Juniper tree, surrounded by shrubs and other flowering plants.
But at that moment, none of that mattered. Russell and Eldridge only cared that after almost five years, the ring was back with its rightful owner.
Russell is the son of Curtis and Eddie Mae Russell of West Memphis and the grandson of Maddie Hill of Forrest City. He has a younger brother, Jamal, also a former Forrest City Mustang football player.