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.