LaGRANGE — Keystone football players came together over pizza, crowding tables in the middle school cafeteria. High school players, alongside their middle school counterparts, as tragedy rocked the district Tuesday.
An eighth-grade football player killed himself the night before, leaving teammates, classmates, coaches and the community reeling. School officials, including varsity head football coach Don Griswold, broke the news to his students earlier that day.
“Right away, the high school guys wanted to do something, they knew that they wanted to support their buddies at junior high. We’ve lost two high school football players within a year … the high school guys wanted to be there for their friends,” he said.
So, between the basketball tryouts and open gym, the members of the school’s freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams sat down with the junior high students. Griswold spoke to players in the gym beforehand, saying the group didn’t have anything formal planned — just a chance for students to break bread together and lean on one another.
“Football is what we do, it’s not who we are and what we do here at Keystone football is preach family and supporting each other and that’s what you’re seeing,” Griswold said.
The boy’s suicide comes less than two years after the deaths of two high school football players. Nathaniel Barrett, 17, died in March 17, 2017, in a car crash on state Route 301 near Whitney Road. Kayden Williams, also 17, died December 27 in a car crash on West Ridge Road.
One high school player, junior Dominic Torok, 16, spoke to the group in the gym, urging them to share funny stories or memories with their teammate — focusing on the positive in the wake of his sudden death.
Dominic said he can relate to what students are feeling, as he was best friends with Kayden.
“I understand the place of emotion when it comes to losing someone that close,” Dominic said. “I can’t really relate to them at being at such a young age because I was a sophomore and they’re in middle school … but I got up and talked because I’ve found ways to deal with it a little better and look at it (from) a more positive perspective … because when it comes to death of any sorts I think you put into your head the thoughts of what could I have don’t to prevented it, what could I have done and this and this, but it’s done. It’s over with. I know that’s a very negative way of looking at it but at the same time you have to take the positives from the life that he lived and look at the light that he had shine down while he was alive and that will still impact when he’s gone.”
He said the first days after are the hardest, and trying to balance how each individual grieves can be difficult — but said students should not focus on the “what ifs.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255 and is available 24 hours a day.
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