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January 6, 2014

Stolen treasure returned

THOMASVILLE — The person who presented a state championship ring to Chase Covington on Saturday wasn’t a coach or an athletic director. It was a good-hearted stranger from 60 miles away.

In the Albany James H. Gray Sr. Civic Center parking lot, Barbara Johnson happily handed Covington the shiny memento of his participation on Thomas County Central’s 1997 Class AAA championship football team. The exchange ended a lengthy story.

The ring spent the last five years in Johnson’s jewelry box after her grandson discovered it partially buried in an Albany park. It was stolen from Covington’s truck while it was parked at his best friend’s house in Thomasville in 2001.

“It was like I was getting it again for the first time, really,” Covington said of his encounter with Johnson. “It had been so long. I still saw one of the rings every now and then because I have a couple of friends who have them, and that always made my heart drop.”

Covington’s heart was lifted greatly by Johnson’s gesture. She tracked him down through the Internet after a friend urged her to give Facebook a try.

“I found a page for Thomas County Central’s football team and sent a message there,” Johnson said.  “Then I got a response from Mr. Randy Young, so he put the ball in progress. That’s how it all happened.

“It was quick.”

It wasn’t as quick as it could have been.

“The only thing I had to go on were the initials in the ring and it said ‘Covington’ on the side,” Johnson explained. “I tried ‘googling’ Covington, but I didn’t have a first name. I even called the school at one point, but I guess there were privacy issues so the folks there were kind of evasive about giving out information.

“They told me I could bring the ring to Thomasville and they would try to find the owner, but I wanted to see the person get it myself so I knew they got it.”

The ring was stolen during the final week of Covington’s senior year.

“They cleaned my truck out,” Covington said. “They got my radio, my stereo. Losing the ring is what hurt the most, though.”

Covington was a freshman right tackle on a squad that earned the last of Central’s five state titles in a six-year stretch. That team went 15-0 for the only time in school history.

He said never gave up hope that he would see his treasured jewelry again. He suspects it was discarded after an unsuccesful pawn attempt.

“I still thought about the ring all the time,” Covington said. “I felt like if I could just know what it saw. That’s how I felt.”

The ring will no longer fit on the finger for which it was designed. However, Covington plans to have it resized soon. In the meantime, he is sporting it on his pinkie.

“I really couldn’t believe all of this until I actually got the ring on Saturday,” Covington said. “We were both smiling from start to finish when she pulled up (at the civic center).”

Johnson, who lost her high school class ring many years ago, was just as happy to return the blue and gold memento to Covington as he was to receive it.

““I didn’t want to be paid anything,” she said. “I’m just glad it’s back with the rightful owner. I know how much my high school ring meant to me. I can imagine what a championship ring means to him.”

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