LISBON, Ia. — You had to look closely during Friday night’s football game to find any mention of Mollie Tibbetts.
High on the right side of the white jerseys worn by 36 players representing Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom High School, there was a teal set of wings with the initials “MT.” They’ll be there all season, along with the grief of a community coping with the unspeakable.
Coach Jerod Burns wants his team, and especially his quarterback, to be able to escape all of that for at least one night a week. So the word went out Wednesday to the folks in Lisbon: Thank you for thinking of us, but please don’t make any public display about our loss.
Lisbon listened. There were no signs about Mollie Tibbetts at Walmer Field. No moment of silence in her honor. No mention of her over the loudspeakers.
It was up to the BGM players to carry her memory onto the field, just three days after her body was recovered in a local cornfield, five weeks after she went missing.
“We talked about the way that Mollie lived her life,” Burns said of a private moment with his team before kickoff. “She was a hard worker and she lived with no regrets. That’s the way we told the kids to play tonight, is just leave it on the field, and life’s too short to do anything half-heartedly.”
Younger brother decides to play
Burns got the word late Thursday via text that his senior starting quarterback intended to play in the season opener. No one would have blamed Scott Tibbetts, Mollie’s younger brother, from sitting this one out.
He had returned to practice Thursday, but “his head wasn’t really in it,” Burns said. That’s been a common issue with his players since practices began Aug. 6. It was the most trying preseason of his 14 years as head coach at BGM.
Tibbetts donned his No. 4 uniform and walked two-by-two with his teammates down a slope from Lisbon High School to the field an hour before kickoff. Each duo held hands. Tibbetts was paired with classmate Kyle Cadden.
And then the Bears let loose. They whooped and hollered throughout warmups, just another group of boys excited to get ready for a game.
While his team did calisthenics, Burns walked over to Tibbetts and pulled his face near.
“You’ve got two hours here where you can focus on something else,” Burns told his quarterback. “This is your football team. You’ve got to lead it. There’s nobody else that can.”