November 2nd, 2009.
It was a typical fall day, one of the first truly cold days of the season. It was foggy, overcast, and like any sad story day-it was raining. I remember the weather because I know exactly what I was wearing- my teal, polka dotted rain boots, maroon sweat pants, and my black high school football hoodie that rocked my name on the back. (I never said my style was great.)
I was a student trainer for the football team, which meant I went to practice with the team every day- in the summer, in the offseason- when they were there I was there- giving them water, attending to injuries, taping ankles, and the list goes on and on. There were two girls that were trainers with me- Lynn and Joy. Lynn was my age, we had been in school together since the days of Kindergarten and she was one of my best friends since we shared a third grade class. Joy was a year older and happened to be dating Lynn’s older brother- Scott.
Scott doubled as one of our school’s best Defensive Backs and Wide Receivers. He was one of those guys that everybody liked. His good-natured humor would put even the angriest teacher’s rage into an immediate halt, lightening the mood instantaneously. He was a good athlete- a universal favorite of every coach, a good student who maintained grades good enough to post him on the school’s honor roll, and he was a really good brother. Stereotypical big brother, always looking out for Lynn and interrogating any boys that might come her way.
On this particularly cold and rainy morning at football practice, an officer in a patrol car rolled up onto the edge of the practice field and exited his car, exchanging words with the head coach. They shook hands and the police officer made his way back to his car. The coach blew his whistle a few times and had the boys pick up the gear and head in about 20 minutes early.
Joy, Lynn, and I were doing our usual post-practice routine of throwing towels into the laundry and disinfecting water bottles when Lynn was asked to join the coaches in the office. I was standing in the hall way, just outside of the laundry room, holding a red and white water bottle when Lynn came out of the coaches office, pale-faced and with a blank stare.
We made eye contact and I guess I gave her the facial expression that read something like, “what’s wrong?” because she answered with, “Cody’s missing… They can’t find him.”
And in that moment everything kind of stopped. The boys in the locker room were being high school boys- laughing and hooting and hollering. But I couldn’t hear them anymore. I couldn’t even process what she had said. I dropped the water bottle and watched Lynn grab her belongings and walk out of the field house.
I started praying. I prayed for miscommunication, I prayed for a broken down car. I prayed that he skipped school, I prayed that he was just searching for a missing dog.
An hour later I was sitting in my physical science class. I have no idea what happened in class that day. All I remember was the phone ringing. It rang twice before he picked it up, and I knew after the first ring exactly what I was about to hear. It was a call for me to go to the office. The walk from the science wing to the North office was already a long one, but that morning it felt like an eternity.
In the office was the school recourse officer, two counselors, the principle, and another of Lynn’s best friends. They told us the worst possible thing that we could ever imagine. Scott had shot himself in his living room chair, and he was dead. I could say absolutely nothing. I had about a thousand and one questions, but couldn’t articulate a single one. We were escorted to the room where the football team was seated, about to hear the news. The coaches stood at the front of the room, hats in hand, and the boys grew quiet and still, realizing that something was off.
I have never seen a room of men, with their beards and biceps and deep voices, cry. The scene was somber. Some of the guys sat with their knees pulled to their chests, silently crying or praying to whatever god they believed in. Some of them were in groups, some clenching one another, sobbing deeply.
Sometime after I left the school, I went to the hotel room that Lynn and her family were staying in. Lynn was sitting on the floor with her back against the frame of the bed when I walked in. Her mother was in the adjoined room next door, you could hear her sobs from the next room.
We had been exchanging small talk, trying to avoid the topic that was obviously pressing both of our minds, when the coolest, most moving and heart touching thing I have ever experienced happened. We heard singing from outside, and went to look out of the third-floor window to a scene that I will never forget.
The entire high school football team along with hundreds of students from the school gathered together and filled the parking lot. They stood together arm in arm and sang the school’s fight song. It was so simple, but so impactful. The closing line of the fight song says, “Panther pride will pull us through again…” It was truly incredible to see a community of students as diverse as was standing in the parking lot, singing a simple song with such simple words, but meaning so much more than the words they sang.
I have never been a part of a community, before or since, who pulled together like we did that day in 2009. It was a true testament to the faith we shared in Christ that allowed us to come together as a team, as a school, and as a community.
Every Friday night game for the remainder of that season, Scott’s jersey came with us regardless of whether we were on the road or at home. #24 stayed with us. He was embroidered on our shirts, painted on the guy’s faces, and imprinted in our hearts. He died 6 years ago today and every November 2nd I spend the entire day thinking about him and his precious sister and family, and how much he is truly missed by this community.