Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve traveled throughout southeastern Michigan, spending my Friday nights accompanied by a pen, notebook and recorder to cover high school football.
Each week offers a unique experience. From an unmatched tradition to an area I’ve never ventured to, something memorable is bound to happen.
This past Friday night, though, I experienced something special: several communities coming together to support each other during a tragedy.
It was also a moment when sports went beyond the playing field.
Last Thursday, Colton Durbin, 17, passed away just one day after his car collided with a garbage truck in Bedford Township. Durbin, a senior at Bedford High School, was a defensive back for the Kicking Mules football team.
While the entire area was mourning, compassion and sportsmanship assisted the healing process.
Like so many schools across Monroe County, Dundee High School honored Bedford’s Durbin by participating in a moment of silence and a red-out.
Several other schools participated in the red-out as well. Some displayed their support by writing CD3, Durbin’s initials combined with his football number, on their equipment or arms, while others opted for red ribbons, helmet stickers, or signs with the insignia.
Even Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner joined in on Twitter.
“Thoughts & prayers go out to Colton Durbin’s family and the students and faculty at Bedford for the loss of their brother and friend! #CD3,” the Michigan star’s tweet read.
Then there was Bedford’s ceremony. Seniors Alec Hullibarger and Brad Boss led the Kicking Mules onto the field, carrying Durbin’s black jersey between them. On the opening kickoff, Bedford sent only 10 players on the field, honoring their teammate once more.
I was at Dundee on that Friday night, but I was amazed how the local high schools honored the life of Durbin. Never had I imagined I would witness the many honorable gestures while freelancing for the Monroe Evening News, especially for a player on a team I had covered a month before the tragedy.
Though, it wasn’t the first time I experienced a tragedy of this magnitude.
Back in November 2007, my freshman year at Huron High School, senior football player Derek Greca died after suffering a ruptured small intestine while making a catch during a game a month earlier. It was a heartbreaking moment for everyone at the school to endure.
A similar incident struck Huron a year ago when junior football player Jimmy Williams passed away after being ejected from a vehicle during a crash while traveling with his family for a vacation to the Bahamas.
But just like with Greca in 2007 and now Durbin this past weekend, the entire community united as one, just like a family, to assist the healing process for all involved.
Athletics offer a unique fraternity, built around passion, blood, sweat and tears. Many teams consider themselves families, and rightfully so. That’s what it becomes. That’s what it exactly is.
In times of mourning or sorrow, these families rise up to support one another. But the moral everyone learned was to appreciate everything while you still have it. Appreciate your family, your friends, your teammates, anything that is important to you. You never know when it’ll be gone.
“I was just thankful to be here to play my game (and) sad that he couldn’t be here to play his,” Dundee senior Ryan Heiserman said. “I just played my hardest thinking of him, knowing that he would gladly be back to play another down of football.”
It’s incredible how sports can help unite a community, or in this case, several of them. That is what’s so amazing about them. No matter who you play for or where you go to school at, you’re all part of the ‘family’ that laces up those same cleats on game day. The unbreakable bonds formed through them are unmatched.
With playoff implications on the line, rivalries didn’t matter on Friday night. Although they were still played, sports took a back seat as well. The only things of importance were humanity and sportsmanship, just the way it should’ve been.