Dealing with tragedy
Denton Guyer joins an all-too long list of teams rocked by tragedy.
With last week’s advent of Texas high school football, almost every community and stadium in the state is doused with team colors and plastered with posters and signs echoing threats at the next opponent. Regardless of the results of Week 0, it’s safe to say that most teams are still riding into their second week backed by fan's non-stop positive reinforcement that is reiterated by fiery coaches.
For one community though, the 2013 season will be significantly more difficult as team chemistry was permanently disrupted earlier this week. Some teams are coping with losing their first game. Denton Guyer is coping with losing a teammate.
Saturday night - just one day after their first game of the season - the Wildcat’s starting fullback Nathan Maki was found dead inside a truck from a gunshot wound. The senior was with friends in Bowie awaiting the start of dove season on Sunday when authorities believe the accident happened.
The school has already taken measures to help students and teammates cope with the loss; Guyer High School held a vigil Monday morning for Maki, and counselors have set up a safe room for grieving students to escape. But for those closest to Maki - his teammates – two prominent coaches have reached out to share their relevant advice.
The Coppell Cowboys fought through a difficult season after tragedy struck last October - Senior wide receiver Jacob Logan died in a cliff-diving accident at Possum Kingdom Lake.
Coppell head coach Joe McBride was one of the first contacts Guyer coach John Walsh reached out to.
“I saw I had a text from [him] saying, ‘I need your help. Please call.’ It kind of shocked me. I knew something was up so I called him as soon as I got the text and he just asked for my advice.”
McBride’s counsel was stunningly profound in light of such devastating news. “I just told him, ‘Do not feel guilty if football doesn’t seem important. The number one thing is to get your mind off football and go love on your kids and your coaches.”
McBride alluded to the guilt he felt as a coach when faced with the task of balancing the football season ahead with a period of mourning. “The first thing I did was sit down and start praying. I needed wisdom. I needed strength. I needed guidance. The first thing I did was reach out to my God,” McBride said.
“I just wanted to grieve and football was the last thing on mind.”
The Southeast Texas community experienced a devastating loss in the midst of football season as well. Matt Thomas’s life was tragically cut short following a train accident in 2011. The Vidor team struggled to continue playing after losing the senior linebacker, but head coach Jeff Mathews was gracious with his own players, and gave each player the option to start football again, on their own time.
“Every kid mourns a different way,” Mathews said. “Some kids are afraid to show their emotions; some aren’t. Just know that every kid out there is hurting.”
The Denton Guyer Wildcats will take the field this Thursday at 7 pm, just hours after Nate Maki’s funeral. With the absence of #33 on the sidelines, the Wildcats have a rather emotional few months ahead of them. In times of tragedy, communities often rally through mourning and offer as much encouragement as they can muster, but sometimes it’s best to simplify the situation and let those close to Maki grieve.
For the Denton Guyer team, that may mean temporarily taking football out of the football team.
“I just hope that people give these kids grace. Football isn’t the most important thing right now,” McBride said. “Those kids care about each other; those coaches love each other. They will love each other through it.”
And with how tight-knit the football community is across the state, the Denton Guyer, Coppell, and Vidor teams all have a binding support system for the seasons to come.
“When you’re a head coach, losing a player is almost no different than losing one of your own...at Vidor all of our prayers right now are going to [Nathan Maki’s] family and the Denton Guyer team,” Mathews said.
Samantha Emerson is a special contributor to Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.