The Joliet (Mont.) High School football team steeled itself all preseason to overcome adversity. Now it’s dealing with more than it imagined, in a single powerful dose.
On Thursday morning, Joliet sophomore football player Paul McKay died in a head-on highway crash. As reported by Billings CBS affiliate KTVQ, the death was sudden and unexpected, but hours later his teammates were back on a field preparing for a playoff game on Saturday.
“Our coach has been teaching us about adversity this year,” Joliet senior lineman and linebacker Grant O’Rourke told KTVQ. “And it’s been a really good life lesson not knowing this is going to happen, but when it did happen, we were there and we were strong enough to handle it.”
The point: just because Joliet held a practice doesn’t mean it isn’t grieving for McKay.
There is a natural cycle of grief that anyone, let alone a teenager, should be expected to go through. McKay’s teammates haven’t had the time to work through that yet. But the team also knows that its season hangs in the balance Saturday when they take on Scobey.
If McKay would have wanted his team to continue, he would understand that they had to continue practicing in anticipation of the playoffs.
Come game time, Joliet will wear number 70 stickers on the back of football helmets and paint a large “70” on the 50-yard line. It’s just a small nod to the memory of a teammate gone far too soon, but one which also speaks to the importance he played within the team and how much he’ll be missed, practice or not.
“Paul McKay, I’ll tell you he had one of the brightest smiles that I’ve ever seen,” Joliet coach George Warburton told KTVQ. “Every time I’d see him, he’d tell me hello. He made it a point to say hi to us and to all the other adults and kids and so he was a bright spot in our community for sure.”