[This is my column in The Commercial Review from today.]
Sports have a funny way of allowing us to show how we feel.
The best sports moment I’ve ever been a part of also revolves around one of the worst moments of my life.
And I’m reminded of it each year on my birthday.
In the early hours of Oct. 15, 2000, just hours after my freshman homecoming dance, a friend and her older sister were killed by a drunk driver.
Shannon had returned home from college for the weekend to see her younger sister Heather off for her freshman homecoming, and after the dance Shannon picked up Heather and some friends from an after party.
It was reported the man driving the vehicle who hit them was traveling upwards of 80 MPH in a posted 30 MPH zone.
He and his passenger suffered serious injuries, but it didn’t compare to the injury of losing a friend, sister or daughter.
Heather was a member of the freshmen girls basketball team. She was involved with church and youth group in addition to participating in other extracurricular activities outside of sports.
She had her head on straight, and she was going to make something of herself when she got older.
But she never got the chance.
When Heather was on the basketball court, her uniform number was 32. To her it was just a number, but after her passing, it became a memorial.
Her boyfriend, Jared, was a starting linebacker on my freshman football team. Because of how close-knit our team was, Heather was friends with the whole group of boys.
The day was hard enough to get through by itself, but reporting to football practice in the afternoon to prepare for a game two days later made us question if it was really worth playing that week.
As the team sat in the locker room contemplating whether or not to play, the varsity coach Brett Foerster called us together to speak to us.
He stood in front of the group and asked us if we still wanted to play our game.
Still emotional from the day’s happenings, no one mustered up an answer.
Coach gave us the answer we needed.
“I know Heather was near and dear to each and every one of you. She was the same to me,” he said, holding back tears of his own. “But you know very damn well she would want you to play this week.”
So we did.
Jared wore number 40, and John a starting safety on our team, wore Heather’s number.
When the coaching staff passed out our jerseys, John was as unselfish as anyone could ever be.
He took his No. 32 jersey and gave it to Jared. He knew it meant more to Heather’s boyfriend than it did him.
The impact of No. 32 lasted far longer than that stretch of 48 minutes. Jared wore her number the final three years of his high school career in her honor.
During the game after her passing, the team wore wristbands donning Heather’s name and her number. To this day I still have mine, and I wear it twice a year; her birthday and my birthday, the day she was killed.
The game allowed us to forget what happened to our friend and her family, even if just for 48 minutes on a Wednesday night.
Sports has the power to do that. It lets us take a step back and put our minds at ease for just a few moments.
It worked in 2001 following Sept. 11, it worked in 2007 in Blacksburg following the Virginia Tech shooting and it worked at the TD Garden in Boston after the marathon bombing.
It also worked Friday night at Jay County High School.
Of course I was emotional following my friend’s passing. I even got the chills upon watching videos of the first post-9/11 baseball game, the response at the Virginia Tech football opener in 2007 and during the National Anthem at the Boston Bruins game.
And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get choked up at Harold E. Schutz Stadium Friday during the pink-out supporting JCHS athletics secretary Joni Penrod.
That’s sports playing a funny trick again, allowing us to express emotion.
Well played, Jay County.