The Florida High track and field team returned to practice on Tuesday with a heavy heart.
Yet, the Seminoles, many of whom are slowed by injuries suffered in last Friday morning’s accident that took the life of their bus driver, combined reverence with resolve as they pressed forward in preparation for next week’s Class 2A state meet.
But it wasn’t easy.
“It was real tough today (Tuesday),” Seminoles coach Tyrone McGriff said.
“They were trying to push through it, but some of the kids were not mentally or physically ready to return to a normal practice or pace. I couldn’t ask for any more than what they were giving me though. They are one of the best teams I’ve probably been around in terms of being mentally tough.”
A bus carrying 33 members of the team and faculty was struck by a car driven by a suspected intoxicated driver as it returned from a regional meet in Jacksonville on Thursday night.
The bus driver, William R. Fowler II, 65, was killed in the crash, which happened about 2:25 a.m. at Apalachee Parkway and Conner Boulevard.
Two students and one coach were taken to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare with injuries that weren’t life-threatening following the accident, according to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office.
However, McGriff said more than 20 athletes were checked by family physicians or at walk-in clinics over the weekend.
McGriff said a majority of the students are slowed by muscle soreness and minor pains, with the most serious injury being diagnosed as a potential rotator cuff (shoulder stability) tear.
Senior sprinter Cecil Robinson said Tuesday’s practice was important for the team’s recovery.
“It’s real important just to try to get back in the (competitive) mindset,” said Robinson, who sat in the back of the bus and added he is fine after his head struck a window in the accident.
“We are trying to prove to everyone and ourselves that we can come together as a team and overcome any adversity and push through. It was a tough weekend, thinking about what happened in the wreck.”
Robinson said the Fowler family is in the team’s daily prayers. McGriff held a team meeting on Monday to measure his team’s mood. Players told him they wanted to return to practice. While 45 minutes shorter than usual due to struggles, it served its purpose.
“After everything that happened and it being such a traumatic event, it was important to come together as a team and focus on the state meet,” said Keira Richardson, a two-sport star who has experienced back soreness since the accident.
“It was good for everyone to get back out here (practice). We are closer as a team.”
Note: Fowler’s funeral is today at 3 p.m. at White Baptist Church in Woodville. McGriff said he is trying to raise money to help pay the funeral expenses for the Fowler family. Donations are being accepted at Florida High’s front office, 3000 School House Road.