The morning after the deadly plane crash, the grieving volleyball team gathered in a quiet corner in the Greektown Casino Hotel lobby.
“Right after everybody found out, I got the team, the parents, everybody together in the lobby,” coach Mary-Margaret Armstrong said. “My talk to them was, there is always darkness. You can’t stop the darkness sometimes. We are here to be the light in the darkness. We have to be the light within Krysta’s darkness.”
Krysta Boaz, 14, lost her father and stepmother, Greg and Julie Boaz, when their single-engine plane crashed on June 24 near Coleman A. Young International Airport. A video captured her brother Peyton Boaz, 17, stumbling away from the wreckage, which had come to rest upside down and was on fire. Peyton was hospitalized.
The three were headed from their home in Texas to Detroit to watch Krysta play in USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championship last week at Cobo Center.
Krysta was already in Detroit with her mother when the accident happened.
“There was really never a question on if she would play,” Armstrong said. “I walked in the room and she already had her uniform on. There was no, ‘well, let me talk to my mom, let me think about it.’ No, she was ready.”
So she played.
She played her heart out, a middle hitter patrolling the net, rising up and blocking shots and throwing down some nasty spikes. She played with unbelievable emotion considering everything, firing up her teammates, making silly faces, going through choreographed handshakes with different teammates. When she was subbed out, she stood on the sideline, superstitiously shaking a rattle for good luck.
That court became a safe haven, a place to feel normal again, if only momentarily.
And this tournament turned into a complicated week of games and prayers and grief and laughs and tears and heartache for the coaches, parents and players.
“She is handling it like a champion,” Armstrong said. “There are not a lot of 14 year olds who could handle it as well as she is handling it. There is a lot of healing going on right now, being surrounded by so much love.
“If she were at home, she wouldn’t have this. It’s a time and place to deal with everything. Right now, she gets to be in kind of a normal environment while she is trying to process it.”