Trying to maintain focus in the face of serious adversity is an exercise that should be reserved for adults. Even for the average adult, being involved in an accident in which someone loses their life can cause unspeakable trauma. Now imagine the effect it could have on a typical teenager.
Thankfully, no members of the Legacy High School football team were dealing with physical injuries when they took the field for their homecoming game against Prairie View last Friday night. It was a mere five days after several of them were involved in a fatal school bus crash at Denver International Airport. The driver, 42-year-old Kari Chopper, was killed and three members of the Legacy coaching staff, including head coach Wayne Voorhees, were injured in the crash — the exact cause of which won’t be known for quite some time.
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Several of the players on that bus — one of three buses sent to the airport by the Adams 12 Five Star Schools district to shuttle the team back to school after a road trip to California — were hospitalized briefly and subjected to concussion protocol treatment. None had serious physical injuries.
But physically is only part of the equation. What about the psychological impact? The players were not available to comment to the media before or after their game, and the school has kept things very buttoned up in the wake of the tragedy. We are only left to imagine what those on the bus went through in the moments before the crash.
Try putting yourself in the position of a teenager, having just returned from the trip, sitting on that bus (with no seat belts; still one of the great mysteries of life) preparing to return to school as usual the next morning. Your life is suddenly changed forever in the blink of an eye. You not only saw someone die, but also you watched your coaches suffer serious injuries.
You and I might have needed immediate and prolonged counseling, and the school was quick to make that available to the players and other students. Several took advantage of the opportunity to try to deal with the whirlwind of emotions.
Yet, we know that kids are resilient. So much so that the members of the team voted overwhelmingly to play their homecoming game as scheduled. They were back on the practice field Tuesday afternoon.
Defensive coordinator Matt Cradock was named interim head coach while Voorhees recovers. Even he was surprised by the reaction of his players.
“One of the first questions we asked them was hey guys, this is a tough week. Should we play this? What are the pros and cons?” Craddock said. “One of our senior leaders, Seth Hill, got up and said, ‘You know Coach V has always told us that we reload. It’s not about who we lost or what we couldn’t do, it’s about reloading. In his honor, coach, there’s no way you’re gonna keep us off that field.’ “
Still, there was no way this would be anything close to an ordinary week.
“It was one of those weeks that really tests you,” Craddock said. “We really focused in on the team aspect and making sure we were sound mentally. We didn’t do a lot of individual work, we wanted to make sure our kids were going to line up correctly, try to prevent any mental mistakes, so it was a challenge. The kids responded very well.”
There was plenty of emotion in the overflowing stands prior to kickoff. Chopper was remembered and the injured coaches saluted. Once the game began, the Lightning’s Anthony Lyle struck twice — an 11-yard TD reception on the opening drive, followed by a 58-yard TD return on an ensuing punt. The outcome was never really in question after that. Legacy won 29-6.
Then again, most would say they won just by taking the field.
For more from Mark Knudson, go to www.MarkKnudsonsInsidePitch.com