DANVILLE — David and Yvette Buford knew their son, Calvin Maze, was a special man.
But even they didn’t know how special the owner of the Danville Bears youth football team was until after he passed away last month from natural causes.
“The day that he died, the kids and coaches wanted to do a balloon sendoff that day. They threw a barbecue for the kids that didn’t know what was going on,” Yvette Buford said. “They told all the kids then and did a balloon release. There were a lot of people at his funeral. You love your kids, but you never know how much they are loved until you see it. There were team members and men his age crying.”
Maze and Bobby Knight took over the then-Carver Park Bears in 2007. Soon, Maze would be the sole owner of the team but the main purpose was the same: To keep kids’ focus off the streets.
“They wanted to do something for the kids and wanted them to stay out of trouble and then Bobby decided to let it go and our son picked it up,” Yvette Buford said. “He would leave dialysis to show up for them. It was more than just football; it was to keep the kids off the streets.
“He set up an after-school program for the kids and he tutored them. He took them from Danville to Texas, Indianapolis and Chicago. There was not one kid that didn’t play. He paid out of his pocket for kids that didn’t have money to play and if they needed money on the road, he would give it to them to make sure they had what other kids had. If anyone asked him for anything, he would give it to them.”
With the trips, the team was able to travel out and made sure everyone knew about Carver Park and later Danville with the name change.
“He realized that to make big changes begin with one small step,” David Buford said. “Maybe there were teams from here that went to Vermilion County and maybe a game at Champaign for a game or two, but he took them to Dallas, and kids who had never had a chance were able to go to Texas and they are still talking about the trip and it opened up horizons. People never thought of anything like that.
“One year at the Labor Day parade, it was the day they changed the banner from Carver Park Bears to Danville Bears, and when they came in, the crowd went wild. They felt that it was their team. You look up at a game and you saw people from Danville. It was something that represents Danville well. It was a small process that he and Bobby started and that type of unity is something we always need.”
Maze was plagued with health problems in his later years, but he still made a way to focus on the Bears.
“His work ethic was amazing and when his eyesight went bad, he kept things going,” David Buford said. “When he started feeling sick, he was thinking about letting go, but he felt better and he just kept going. He worked hard for those little kids and he treated them like his own. He was a mentor for them and was a good role model for them. There has to be certain toughness in being sick and doing things when you don’t feel like it and it takes toughness to do it.”
After Maze’s death, his parents had to deal with the aftermath, but the outpouring of support has been a comfort.
“I don’t think anyone had anything bad to say about him,” Yvette Buford said. “They went to the funeral and sent cards. It was hurtful, but it was an amazing thing to see. We were able to raise a child that was more about helping others than about him.”
“You don’t expect to bury your kids and people say that all the time and it is true and it was pretty tough,” David Buford said. “He packed a lot of life in 49 years.”
But the Bufords are happy that their son’s legacy will live on.
“The team has given us a special plaque and the kids have been just about winning every game since he passed,” Yvette Buford said. “They are doing it for him. I am proud of him.”
“I always tell people that he was the nicest person I have ever met. His success always surprised me because he was just so quiet about it,” David Buford said. “I hope it keeps going because it has done a lot of good for everyone and has inspired a lot of people around here young and old and you can see that people can work together and make a difference in small steps. He was quite a fellow.”