McCoy surprises long-time fan at Bellaire football game

BELLAIRE — Spencer Lay had a big surprise awaiting him Saturday afternoon at Nelson Field.

The Bellaire High School senior thought he was there to march in the band as a percussionist and cheer on the Big Reds football team as it entertained Garaway. But little did he know a longtime acquaintance would join him on the field at halftime.

As both teams toiled under overcast skies, a car pulled up just outside the gate leading the Bellaire bus garage. Out of it emerged country music superstar Neal McCoy. Wearing a shirt that had his name on the back and on the front said “I’m With the Bellaire Band,” McCoy discreetly made his way over to the Bellaire side of the field and stood near the endzone along with his longtime road manager Les Martines.

Then, as the “Pride of the All-American Town” made its way down from the bleachers to prepare for halftime, Lay spotted McCoy. He raced toward him and the two embraced. As those around them smiled — some with tears in their eyes — McCoy and Lay spoke to each other like old friends do.

McCoy, in Wheeling for a performance Saturday night at the Capitol Music Theater, told Lay to have a great halftime show and that he’d be watching. Lay thanked him. Then, after the band made its way around the track, the longtime Jamboree in the Hills staple chatted with members of Lay’s family and others, snapping pictures, too.

It was all a whirlwind for Lay’s family, but a day they won’t soon forget.

“He and Neal, they just have a special connection,” said Spencer’s mom, Jennifer. “I can’t think of anything more to say about Neal because he’s so special to Spencer. It’s so awesome to see this happen.

“This was just something we really wanted to surprise Spencer with. And I think he was very surprised and in kind of tears a little bit, which we all were.”

McCoy spoke to the crowd at halftime and told everyone what an inspiration Spencer is to him.

“You did a great job,” he said, also sending out kudos to the rest of his band mates and the Red Line.

Lay and McCoy struck up a friendship at Jambo about six years ago and keep in touch often.

“Neal calls him on his birthday every year and he gave Spencer a lifetime pass to see him anytime. He just enjoys his music. Spencer has a passion for music and he just loves how Neal performs. It’s just been that way since he was itty-bitty.”

Gabrielle Santinoceto, Spencer’s sister, reached out to McCoy via text, telling him about the game. She was hopeful that, with the game coinciding with his concert in The Friendly City, that he’d be able top stop over.

“He said, ‘Sure,'” Santinoceto said. “We went and picked him up. He’s very down-to-Earth and he’s always keeping up with Spencer and keeping up with his condition and with our family. He’s really awesome.”

Lay has a rare genetic condition, but his mom said it hasn’t kept him down. In fact, with McCoy’s encouragement, Lay has overcome adversity in a way most doctors thought he wouldn’t.

“We were pretty much told to take him home and enjoy the time we had with him,” Lay said. “Even when he was an infant Spencer always had a thing for music and parades and marching bands. Something just clicked when he saw Neal and it’s kind of been a blessing that he’s been in Spencer’s life because he’s pushed him to be determined to do many things.

“Anything he’s been told he couldn’t do he’s overcome it.”

Santinoceto marvels at the love the community and his classmates have given Spencer who, this year, is marching independently, on the field.

“He loves the band and he loves Bellaire,” she said. “Everyone is so awesome with him.”