- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - How did Donnie Foster’s state championship ring end up inside a junked car?

The answer might always remain a mystery.

How he got it back? That case is closed.

Winning a state football title in high school isn’t exactly an anomaly. After all, hundreds of players across Virginia celebrate that feat every December. That doesn’t mean winning one isn’t special. To do so takes practice, determination and heart.

Imagine winning a title. Foster did it with Heritage in 2002. Now think of how devastating it would be to lose the most important symbol of your accomplishment.

Foster searched everywhere he could think for his lost ring: His dorm at Liberty University, his parents’ house, friend’s homes and athletic fields. He eventually gave up hope.

He got used to not placing that ring on his finger or not seeing it inside a bedside drawer. He slowly got used to friends’ jokes about how he lost something for which he worked so hard.

Eleven years passed.

Then, on Monday, someone showed up at LU, where the 29-year-old Foster works. Harlow Reynolds, 73, had the ring tucked into his shirt pocket. But he wasn’t giving it up without a little detective work.

Why? Because that ring had lived a life of its own since Foster lost it. Reynolds had a feeling the ring had too much sentimental value to give it to the wrong person.

“The way he approached me was he wanted to talk to me about the Heritage football team that won states,” Foster said of Reynolds. “He said wanted to interview me and I was a little shocked by that. He wanted to make sure I was the right person.”

Reynolds started asking questions. Finally, he lowered the boom.

“I said, ‘Did you get one of those state rings they gave away?’” Reynolds asked. “And he said, ‘Yeah, but I lost it.’ I knew right then that I had the right man.”

The long way home

In 2002, no team was better than Heritage. The Pioneers went 14-0 and claimed the Seminole District crown before winning the Group AA, Division 4 state title with a stunning 34-7 victory over Lafayette at LU.

Foster was a junior that year, one of several talented and speedy running backs. He also filled in at various roles, including corner, linebacker and punt returner.

“At the beginning of the year, you were ranked based on where you were projected to finish,” Foster said. “In the district, we were ranked dead last. Every game, they’d have predictions on who was going to win. They had us predicted to lose every single game the entire year. . We were blowing out teams. People could barely move the ball on us. And every week, it was like, ‘They’re going to lose this week.’”

The Virginia High School League overturned the Pioneers only loss, to Magna Vista, after they found the Warriors had used ineligible players.

In 2003, Foster’s senior season, the Pioneers went 10-1.

Then he started attending Liberty, intent to eventually walk on the football team. A bad case of turf toe, though, kept him sidelined. That injury persisted and by the time it healed, football at the college level wasn’t an option.

Foster lost the state ring during his freshman year at college.

“I searched everywhere,” he said. “No one had seen it. . I looked for it a few years and then, eventually, I was like, ‘You know what? It’s high school. Try to put it behind you.’”

One day, Lynchburg resident Greg May, then an employee at Kerr Tire & Automotive, was sifting through some abandoned vehicles behind the shop. He happened upon a state championship ring from 2002.

May took the ring home. It sat for about a decade, he said, inside a drawer.

“I’ve carried it in my pocket,” May said. “I’ve shown it to people. I’ve had different ones try to tell me to take it to the pawn shop and find out what it was worth. I just held on to it.”

May eventually reached out to Reynolds, his longtime friend. Oddly enough, Reynolds once lost some Mickey Mantle memorabilia at the Stadium Inn, after showing it to friends. Weeks later, May found those things.

So, the two friends reunited again to track down Foster.

Reynolds made a few phone calls and found out Foster worked at LU.

“I handed him the ring and tears came into his eyes,” Reynolds said. “He was tickled to death.”

For safe keeping

When he first started college, Foster remembers showing off his ring. He was a proud young 18-year-old, fresh off a successful high school career.

Now, 11 years later, he’s taking a different approach.

“I think I’ll put it in a safe,” he said.

Over the years, he’s told friends about being part of a state championship team. They razzed him about not having the ring to prove it. Now, they’ll believe him, Foster said with a smile.

After getting off work Monday, Foster took the ring with him to the gym, where he worked out with former Heritage teammate Keith Endicott. The two friends were able to share some memories of the past.

“But I won’t be wearing around anymore,” Foster said with a broad smile. “I learned from my mistakes.”

___

Information from: The News & Advance, http://www.newsadvance.com/

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