Palmer remembered for his heart on and off the football field


Marty Gordon

Despite his small statue of 5-2, 195 pounds, Dana Palmer was one of the most versatile rushers in southwest Virginia as Radford won three straight regional championships.

Because of his short stature (5’3’’, 195 pounds) opposing defenses might have scoffed at the former Radford High School running back Dana Palmer when he took the field.

But by the time the game was over, they were scratching their heads and wondering what happened. Those laughs turned to respect; because, despite his small size, he became a giant on the football field.

In three years of varsity play, he scored 44 touchdowns and rushed for 3,245 yards. The Bobcats went on to win three straight regional titles, and Palmer became part of a group of super sophomores that played their hearts out in the black and gold.

Dana Palmer scored 44 TD’s and rushed for 3,245 yards at Radford School from 1985 to 1988.

He was known as “Smurf,” but anyone that saw his accomplishments on the football field knew him as a tough-nosed running back that would never quit.

Palmer graduated from RHS in 1988, and a short time later, he became a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office deputy. But in 2001, the man who had become known as a fighter on the gridiron lost a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The American Cancer Society says this year there will be about 8,260 new cases and about 1,070 deaths from this type of cancer.

Palmer initially complained of back pain when doctors discovered the disease. He received chemo, but the cancer became too aggressive, and he died just over a year after being diagnosed.

When friends gathered to remember Dana, they wanted to take things the extra mile. The end result was a basketball weekend that raised funds for a scholarship to be named in his honor. The event drew former Bobcat and Hokies players with the likes of Dell Curry signing autographs on a regular basis.

Because of scheduling conflicts, the basketball benefit game was stopped two years ago and a golf tournament replaced it.

This weekend, the golf tournament was held at the Draper Valley Golf Course, and a special inspirational concert was held Friday night. Addtionally, an outdoor concert was held at Bisset Park. Organizers said they hope to continue all of these events in the future.

Wednesday, Dana’s brother Keith sat down and reflected on the brother he said was an “inspiration in many ways.” Keith was Dana’s baby brother. The two had lost another brother, Craig, in 1971 after he drowned accidently at Claytor Lake.

“He (Dana) had a lot of heart. Athletically, he had short legs, was quick and could turn on a dime. He started all three years on varsity.”
Growing up in Radford, Keith said Dana always played football and he looked up to him in many ways.

“He was not your prototype running back, but Coach Norm Lineburg saw something in him when no one else did,” Keith said.

In school, everyone gravitated to Dana and was well liked by anyone he came across.

“He was non-judgmental and that carried over to his work at the sheriff’s department. He always looked at people with dignity and respect, even if they were inmates in the jail,” Keith said.