Wins, and loss: In death, Tyson Wacker reminds family, community why they endure

Wins, and loss: In death, Tyson Wacker reminds family, community why they endure


Wins, and loss: In death, Tyson Wacker reminds family, community why they endure


On Oct. 18, the West Valley (Cottonwood, Calif.) football team practiced and planned for the next day’s game against Corning.

On Oct. 19, the game felt pointless.

“We didn’t care about football,” coach Greg Grandell said. “We didn’t care at all about the game. We talked about not even playing.”

In the hours between, 16-year-old Tyson Wacker, a junior defensive lineman, was hospitalized after his SUV crashed into a tree off Rhonda Road while driving home from the gym. Within days, he would die from his injuries.

Before the game, Grandell gathered four captains — still raw from a surreal night at the hospital — and asked if they wanted to go through with the game.

They thought about what Tyson would have wanted. Their decision was unanimous. Something told them they should play.

West Valley’s players came out Friday night and won. They won again the next week and the week after that. They went to the playoffs and won. They went to a section championship game and won, and then cried.

Of all the lessons Tyson’s death taught those around him — to live fully, to be careful, to be thankful — becoming champions sliced through the suffering, if only momentarily. It reminded them to endure, and it reminded them why they have to.

How they celebrate Tyson’s life

Tyson was a football star in a football town. But he wasn’t a one-dimensional person.

He was active. Hunting, fishing, snowboarding. He took on challenges, like learning to pick locks and rooting for the Cleveland Browns. He liked to cook breakfast for his friends and make up his own jokes. His mom called him “Jim Carrey goofy.”

Like a lot of defensive linemen, Tyson would try to get in his opponent’s head on the line of scrimmage. But instead of talking trash, Tyson walked the opposing offensive tackle through the steps to prepare a casserole, what ingredients you need, and how you ought to bake it.

“To where his teammates were like ‘Tyson what are you talking about down there?’” his mother, Christine, recalled.

Sometimes unconventional, Tyson’s methods often worked if you let him do it his way. His coach, Greg Grandell, said Tyson and fellow defensive end Brock Taylor comprised the best edge duo he’s had in 35 years of coaching.

But more than Tyson’s talent, Grandell and others loved his gratitude, his appreciation for life and a level of kindness he said is hard to come by.

“He didn’t carry himself like a privileged athlete,” Grandell said.

Tyson’s mother told stories of him bringing eggs and bacon to school for hungry classmates. He’d cook it in the parking lot before first period, as if tailgating for another day of life at West Valley High. After third period, he’d give his younger brother, Ashtin, whatever he made in culinary class.

Tyson wasn’t just a role model for football players or underclassmen. He was a role model to his parents and his coaches.

“He’s my hero,” his father said. “I aspire to be like him.”

Read the full article at the Record Searchlight.


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