Scott Merchant was brought to tears as his Clinton Township Chippewa Valley football team began practice at 7 a.m. this morning.
The team, “40 seniors strong,” is hurting.
On Thursday, 17-year-old Duncan Blair, who would’ve been competing for a starting linebacker spot, died after he lost control of his off-road vehicle and struck a tree in Oscoda County. Because the contingent of four was so far back in the woods, it took about one hour for emergency medical services to reach Blair.
“I was literally getting ready to get out of the car and go kayaking with my wife,” Merchant said. “One of the kids called Thursday afternoon and said there had been an accident. I said, OK, he’s hurt. Then the next thing I know, they were like, ‘He didn’t make it.’ It was the middle of the day, and they had an adult with them.”
There were four people, all on individual vehicles. One of Blair’s teammates was first, and didn’t witness the accident. However, one of Blair’s teammates saw it.
“They stayed with him,” Merchant said. “My player who saw it happened said there was blood everywhere. A 17-year-old kid doesn’t need to see that.”
A friend of the family and one of Blair’s teammates stayed by his side while another member of the group went for help. It was too late.
The team met at 9 a.m. Friday morning to deal with the tragedy, something that is happening all too often in the Chippewa Valley family.
In 2014, CV football player Nick Ureel died after a battle with cancer. In May, another football player, Alex Mackmin, died and, during the senior’s freshman year, they lost a close friend to cancer.
Blair’s viewing will take place 2-9 p.m. Tuesday. Merchant said he’d cut practice short so the team could attend the viewing. On Wednesday, Blair will be laid to rest, and the Big Reds won’t practice that day.
To honor Mackmin and Blair, the team will wear decals, said quarterback Patrick Briningstool who, along with fellow senior Stefan Claiborne, expect to lead a high-powered offense to a big season at Chippewa Valley.
“Coach said if there is any class capable of handling this, we are,” Briningstool said. “We are brothers. There’s no doubt that a lot of us have a lot on our minds with everything that has gone on the past year and a half. I think as a group it’s good to be out there together. We’re spending all day together, talking, joking around; getting ready for Lake Orion for Week 1.”
Added Claiborne, who blocked a key extra point in the team’s 28-27 playoff victory against Macomb Dakota last season: “For us, getting away is the football field. This 2016 class has a great bond. We’ve had a great bond since middle school. It’s what we love to do. It helps us get our mind off what has happened. We’re excited to be together for one last time.”
Contact Perry A. Farrell: 313-222-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @farrellperry.