This wasn't supposed to happen. Not now.
Late in the afternoon of May 30, a Thursday, Paris assistant athletic director Trey Prieur received a frantic phone call.
"Have you heard from Clint?"
That day, as the sun broke through the clouds and little league baseball chatter took center stage over at Veterans Park, word spread through the Paris community that Mainer had died from a rare brain aneurysm.
He was just 45.
Everybody in Logan County knew Clint Mainer.
"It hit us pretty hard," Prieur said of the death. "He was such a great guy, good friend, community member, dad and brother. He was everybody's mailman. His brother, Casey, is the middle school principal and AD (athletic director) — he's my boss ... It hit close to home, just because everybody knew the family."
Mainer's friendship was like the thick oak trees that provide summer shade along East Church Street, one of those idealistic streets plucked from a page of Southern Living Magazine. Like the sprawling oaks, Mainer was solid as a rock.
"He was such a local hero," said Paris senior volleyball standout Paiton Forbis. "Everybody knows him; everybody loves him."
At Clint's visitation, down at Brotherton Brothers Funeral Home, people flocked to give their condolences.
"The pews were all full; there was a line all the way around the building," says Faith Mainer, the oldest of Sherel and Clint's two children and a member of the elite Paris volleyball team.
"People on his mail route just adored him," Paris volleyball coach Jordan Devine said. "For us, he was at every ballgame. He smoked all the meat that we have in our concession stand and in our state tournaments. He was truly awesome."
The town lost a true pillar of the community. The little town — nestled 20 minutes from the meandering Arkansas River along rural Highway 22 — was in a state of shock. It's a town where everyone knows everyone.
"I wasn't actually home when he passed away," Faith Mainer, Clint's daughter, explained. "I was 2½ hours away at Girls State at Harding University. I didn't know anything until much later that night when my aunt (Tricia Stinnett) came to pick me up. My mom was with my little brother. My mom called and told me; it was super hard not being there."
Mainer's sudden passing was a punch in the gut to Paris' volleyball team. But it wasn't the only death in the team family that has had an impact.
Two months earlier, as students were grinding their way through the second semester, eagerly anticipating spring break, team member Ciara Boswell's mom, Ashley, died from bronchopneumonia — a treatable but rare form of pneumonia that affects the bronchi in the lungs.
"That day she was going to the doctor," Ciara Boswell said. "She was in the kitchen and she just passed away."
An only child, Boswell was at school that Monday when she learned of her mom's passing.
Ciara wept; her classmates, teachers and neighbors went into overdrive.
"It was a really bad day," Boswell said. "It was overwhelming, and scary, and it was a day of uncertainty. But what was really settling for the day was that everyone was there for me — classmates, teammates, coaches, teachers."
A small town grieves as one.
"Not many people can relate to the feeling, but everybody tried," Boswell said. "They tried to put themselves in my shoes and help any way they could."
A decade ago, an eager Wes Davis was headstrong about building a volleyball program. He did just that, too, leading the team to six consecutive state championship appearances and three straight state titles.
Last year, when Davis abruptly left for Greenbrier, the players — and town — beckoned for Devine to take over.
They haven't missed a beat.
Paris won another championship last fall, finishing 34-2, and will carry a 25-1 record into today's Paris Invitational.
Devine, who is more like a sister to some of her players than a coach, has a blistering .952 winning percentage — not that anyone's noticed.
"We were all kind of raised the same," Forbis explained. "We've all been coached by coach Devine and she's molded us into the people we are today."
The team, and its four seniors, might just take the school to another championship match this season, too.
"Volleyball, it calms me down; it's an escape that makes me happy," Boswell said. "When I focus, and we score, it just calms me down. It makes me genuinely happy. It makes me so happy to be with people that I love."
Four seniors, four stories.
Forbis, Boswell, Mainer and Robyn Gossard (the newcomer of the bunch) have meshed nicely with star sophomores Alyssa Komp and Jacee Hart — soon-to-be (if they're not already) names that will be on every team's radar.
After losing phenoms Ryleigh Hardwicke and Joni Inman to graduation, the Lady Eagles are showing no signs of slowing down.
"I think it's probably been a little hard on the sophomores to relate to what's happening," Devine said. "But I think they (seniors) have done a really good job of trying to be there for all four of these girls. I definitely agree with coach Devine; I think it's all brought us closer," Forbis said. "We've hung out and been there for each other throughout the years."
"We're a family," Gossard said. "We fight like any other family, but we always have each other's back, and that's what makes us so strong."
This week, Paris extended its school record conference win streak to 64 while beating the last team to beat them in league play — the Booneville LadyCats — in three sets.
Ribbons for love
Bound by the game they grew to love as kids, the Lady Eagles share a trinket of their family every time they play a match. When the team takes the court Saturday, they'll have with them any number of bright ribbons — yellow for a classmate who passed away at the end of their eighth-grade school year and a red-and-green ribbon they wear in honor of Ciara's mom and Faith's dad.
"The yellow one represents suicide awareness," Mainer said. "We tie them to our shoe laces." The other ribbons were added more recently.
"It's been very emotional, but I think it's probably pulled them together more as a group," Devine said. "Just the camaraderie and being there for each other, it's really brought this team together."
Paris fans will pay homage today to their Lady Eagles, young and old, just as they do when the team hits the road.
"It's like its own little family," Devine said. "As a community, we take in those who move in. Robyn, she wasn't raised here, but I feel like this community does a really good job of, 'Hey, c'mon into the family!' It's really cool to see.
"Our stands, every game the stands are full. And when we go to Elkins, our stands are full. This community is so invested in this school district, they'll travel to Elkins just to watch a volleyball game."
That's true of other sports.
"Last year, we didn't have a great football season, but the stands are full," Devine said. "For a little 3A school, that really says something. Growing up here, you figure out ways to keep yourself entertained.
"We don't have a bowling alley; we don't have a movie theater."
But they have each other.
"It's honestly amazing to be in a town like this with so much support," added Mainer. "A lot of times when we go to away games we have more fans. It's really cool to have that support."