There was a substitute teacher that day in math class, March 8, 1979, at Rock Hill High School. The boys were horsing around as boys will when a sub has the reins - arm wrestling to be specific.
Bryan Hammond, a 15-year-old music prodigy on the piano and organ, whose rendition of "He Was There All the Time" had brought down the house just the Sunday before at Eastside Baptist Church where he walked each day to practice, was right in the mix in the horseplay as the girls in the class looked on. A member of the Junior ROTC, Bryan slumped over while arm wrestling, though. Then blood coursed out of his ear, he fell unconscious, and an ambulance was called.
Jeff Hammond was at Castle Heights Middle School that day, 12 years old, when he heard the ambulance siren heading away from Rock Hill High down the street.
"Never thought it was my brother inside," Jeff recalled.
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Marsha Hammond was in a car with her girlfriends, in the 11th grade leaving the old Career Development Center, when she saw the ambulance fly by.
"We were just hoping we didn't know who it was inside, I remember," Marsha said.
Mark Hammond, Bryan's brother, was at work, like his daddy, Roger W. Hammond. Lydia Hammond, Bryan's mother, was at work, too, in the business office of the old York General Hospital.
"I got the call at work and rushed down to emergency to meet Bryan when they brought him in," Lydia Hammond recalled.
Bryan was immediately sent to Charlotte and didn't come out of a coma for three months after emergency surgery for a brain aneurysm - a ruptured blood vessel that could have happened any time from strain, but happened while arm wrestling. He didn't come home for months and his life was no longer piano and horsing around.
There was no more music, no more ROTC.
Bryan had his memory but his brain was affected, his body debilitated. He had to relearn to talk, to do almost every basic function, all over again.
Bryan made some gains over the early years. He was schooled by teachers who came to the Hammond home. For years he was - by more than four decades - the youngest person at Park Avenue Adult Day Care. He appeared in advertisements for the United Way that sponsored the day care, saying quotes such as, "I like meeting different people."
By June 8, 1985, Bryan had done all the schooling he could. Rock Hill High's graduation that day was at Winthrop's Byrnes Auditorium, and there was a special graduate three days from turning 22 who did not walk the stage but rolled across it. Bryan was pushed by members of the ROTC that he so loved.
When Bryan Hammond received his diploma, the crowd rose and clapped and stomped. The ceremony stopped for a minute or two. This was the days before school boards and principals had people in crowds arrested for applauding in the middle of graduations. That crowd knew that something truly special was happening at that graduation in 1985 - and this Bryan Hammond who had to relearn his words again to say "thank you," when accepting his diploma sure was special.
"Bryan was thrilled - we all were," said his mother. "The whole room was happy and crying at the same time."
But that was the last time just about anybody other than family ever saw Bryan Hammond. There were no more newspaper stories of his heroic crusade to graduate high school with a damaged brain, no more visits from Charlotte TV crews to the hospital. He spent the last 26 years, with the exception of time at the adult day care, at his mother's home. No more music lessons from Winthrop professors or ROTC drills in that uniform with the brass buttons he polished to a shine that blinded.
He fought for life for 26 years - the last 18 years on a ventilator almost all the time. The family, all of them, took turns helping to care for Bryan. Without a spotlight, they cared for him each day because they loved his courage.
Bryan would be hospitalized and on the brink of death uncountable times, and he would fight on. He had a laptop keyboard that he would sometimes play a note on as he fought through a life taken from him by a blood vessel. His family had to read his lips the last couple of decades when the voice disappeared because of the brain injury.
"It must have been a hundred times that doctors told us he would never make it, starting right after it happened," said Marsha, his sister. "He would always get better, leave the hospital and come home."
Finally on Saturday at 5:58 p.m., at age 47, Bryan Hammond lost the arm wrestling match that started on March 8, 1979, at Rock Hill High School, and he died.
He fought for 32 years and 11 days.
And through relearned words or scribbled notes or lip reading, Bryan Hammond never complained once.
The church, Eastside Baptist, will play recorded music as the family comes in for funeral services Wednesday. The song will be "He Was There All the Time," just like Bryan Hammond played 32 years ago at the same church before his brain exploded.