Just 10 minutes from the site where a mass shooting killed nine Umpqua Community College students on Oct. 1, longtime Roseburg (Ore.) football coach Thurman Bell, 72, knew the kind of healing power his team could provide to a community that has been mourning since the tragedy nine days earlier.
Bell captured that feeling in a rare pregame speech to his team that The Oregonian was listening in on:
“Men,” Bell says. “I’m tired of all the talk. There’s been a lot of issues we’ve had to deal with, a lot of issues our community has had to deal with. Those people out there came here to have fun and forget. They want something positive. That’s our job!”
He is pacing, pointing, and veins in his neck are bulging.
“You don’t get another chance. We have to get that crowd into it, and the way we do that is being like a family. We have to do everything together!” Bell screamed. “I want you to come back in here and look in that mirror and say you gave everything. Now go get it!”
Oregonian columnist Jason Quick captured the entire evening beautifully in his article, “The night the silence ended in Roseburg: How a football game began the healing of a community.”
A group of kids led by student body president Carson Murphy passed out more than 500 green t-shirts with the letters “UCC” and a heart representing Roseburg inside the outline of Oregon, raising $3,000 for victims’ families. The football helmets featured a UCC decal, and members of the team held posters bearing the names of all nine victims — three of whom were Roseburg graduates — after the entire roster met rival South Medford for a moment of silence at midfield before the game.
And, then, taking their coach’s direction, two Roseburg players shouted, “It’s go time,” and, “Lets’ go, boys,” the band began playing and everyone was distracted by a prep football game for a few hours.
“It’s been hard, and the community still hurts,” athletic director Russ Bolin said. “It’s going to take a while to recover, but this game, this place is somewhere the community can come and start that healing process.”
His team ultimately lost to South Medford, 42-13, but it didn’t much matter. After their home game against Sheldon was canceled last week in the wake of the shooting, football was back in Roseburg.