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A Letter To Liberal, Mo.: Thanks For Making SportsCenter Feel Like Part Of Your Community

An ESPNer who visited the Missouri town for the first time came away touched by the town's outpouring for Brooke Bearden

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, ESPN Manager, Brand Marketing John Lobo was on site in Liberal, Mo., for the culmination of SportsCenter’s October celebration of its daily, fan-favorite franchise, “Top 10” plays (edited video, above). When the emotional, joyful final reveal was complete, Lobo gathered his thoughts and wrote this heartfelt tribute to all SportsCenter fans and Top 10 honorees, but especially the folks our team met in Liberal. 

Dear Liberal,

As you know, we concluded SportsCenter’s nationwide tour of the hometowns of ten athletes whose plays have been featured on SC Top 10 as a way to celebrate their achievements in their very own communities. Each was commemorated with unique and custom public installations that pay homage to them and their plays (see photo gallery below).

The final reveal was in your town of Liberal, Mo., (population: 700-plus) for softball player Brooke Bearden, a senior at Liberal High School who suffered a stroke but refused to give up on her favorite sport. After months of rehab and unwavering positivity, she did the extraordinary and walked out onto the softball field surrounded by cheering teammates – it was, in every way, a Top 10 moment.

I had the privilege to be on-site in Liberal for the live “reveal” of the way we chose to commemorate Brooke’s accomplishment.

[Brooke] is an amazing 19-year-old and you are all part of amazing – and resilient – community.

Your town, about two hours south of Kansas City, is one of those classic, American towns that you might miss if the speed limit didn’t drop from 65 to 30 for a minute as you pass through. Cell service is spotty so there’s a quiet calm created as you travel past the cows and fields. You leave Missouri, cross into Kansas, and then enter back into Missouri.

Your town has been through it as of late and the results of the alleged string of arson are apparent as you drive through town. It’s one of the things the people of Liberal talked to us about at length. And while Brooke’s family had their home burned down, it’s just one of multiple, terrible things to happen to them over the past year. But even after multiple acts of destruction to innocent, kind people, they – and you, their neighbors – hold a positive attitude.

The joy you shared and the excitement you showed for ESPN coming to your town was unforgettable. Even the hail and thunderstorms which forced the “reveal” inside the cozy confines of the high school gym couldn’t dampen your spirit. There was chatter that raining on Brooke’s parade is just the way Brooke and her family operate; another setback to overcome, but they make the most of it. And that’s exactly what happened.

SC anchor John Anderson held court in the gym about an hour before we went live on SC Coast to Coast, spoke of his ties to the great state of Missouri and expressed his gratitude to the town in welcoming ESPN.

And Brooke – well you all saw, but it was clear she has made significant progress from the video that made the Top 10. I think that made the day even more special. There weren’t many dry eyes when she walked out, looked around and truly realized the magnitude of this day. She is an amazing 19-year-old and you are all part of amazing – and resilient – community.

We heard ESPN being in Liberal made people do things like get their hair done for the first time in months and buy new sneakers for the big day. The magnitude of the day was not lost on any of your visitors. It was the perfect culmination to our inaugural Top 10 celebration. Thank you for being gracious hosts and thanks to Brooke for being an inspiration to us all.


John Lobo, ESPN


EDITOR’S NOTE: Visit ESPN Front Row’s Vimeo page for the entire SportsCenter segment.
Learn how the SportsCenter Top 10 Day campaign came to be and see more honorees.

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