NORTH RIDGEVILLE — North Ridgeville High’s Rangers football team came up big in the second half Friday night, coming from behind to beat the Elyria Catholic High School Panthers 23-15.
But even as the game ended, the team wasn’t done for the night.
After delivering a big win for the home crowd, the team boarded two buses for a short ride to the home of recently retired offensive line coach Walt Laveen, who was tending to his wife following a car crash a week earlier that left her with a fractured sternum and two broken vertebrae in her neck.
A few minutes past 10 p.m., the usually quiet neighborhood of Behm Drive was startled by the sound of buses rumbling down the road.
Still in uniform, the team’s 55 players poured off the buses to surround and hug Laveen, 65, before the game ball was handed to him, fittingly enough, by senior offensive lineman Nick Bailey.
“Coach Riesen told Nick (to say), ‘We want to give you something,’ and I started to cry,” Laveen said as his voice quavered and tears again came to his eyes as he recalled the team’s visit Monday at his home. “It means an awful lot to me.”
It meant a lot to the team, too.
“Last year was really rough when we went 1 and 9,” senior quarterback Jason Lucas said. “Giving him the ball was a way he could be there, even if he wasn’t.”
“We were really honored to give him the ball,” said Nick. “This program really means a lot to him, and we appreciate all the time he puts into it.”
Junior fullback Jonah Bowden said the group probably was a sight for the neighborhood.
“We were all running up the driveway and across the yard,” he said. “He definitely deserved this.”
Laveen’s wife, Barb, 60, and daughter, Lisa Laveen-Winkle, looked on from inside. Laveen, meanwhile, confessed: “I didn’t want 55 kids (still in football pads and pants) in the house.”
Jason said that probably was a smart decision.
“Some of the guys were still sweaty,” he said.
The surprise visit — Ranger coaches had led Laveen to believe they were the only ones who were going to stop by — lasted about 10 minutes, with players all talking at once, trying to recap the game for him.
“It was like something out of a movie, with everyone around my dad,” daughter Stacey Crumpler said. “It was like ‘Remember the Titans.’”
The idea to surprise Laveen came to Riesen following Thursday’s practice.
“I know Walt Laveen well,’’ Riesen said. “He’s a selfless person and I told the kids he would never think of asking for this himself, but it would be nice for us to go and win this game and then stop on our way home to give him the game ball.”
Laveen continues to volunteer his time as offensive line coach after retiring a year ago following a 41-year teaching career that included more than 30 years with the Ranger coaching staff.
The night was even more special as it marked only the second game Laveen has missed in his entire coaching career. The first was due to the wedding of one of his daughters.
Barb Laveen retired in 2010 after 35 years with North Ridgeville Schools as a math teacher.
On the night of the accident, Oct. 20, the couple was tended to by a number of former students working as EMTs and hospital personnel at St. John West Shore Hospital.
“They feel so blessed to be part of such a caring community,” Laveen-Winkle said.
The Laveens were returning home from Marblehead after a visit with longtime friend, Marblehead Mayor Jackie Bird.
Minutes from home on Case Road, Walt Laveen blacked out at the wheel for unknown reasons.
“The car jumped a ditch, clipped a tree, overturned and slid upside-down,” he said.
He emerged with minor injuries, although doctors are still trying to figure out what made him lose consciousness, according to Laveen-Winkle. She lives in Columbus but spent the week with her parents, who are enjoying their first year as grandparents to Laveen-Winkle’s 9-month-old daughter, Adele, and Crumpler’s 7-month-old son, Curtis.
“It would have been easy to hang out at a friend’s house after the game, but this shows the respect the players have for Coach Laveen,” Ranger Athletic Director Matt Yunker said. “This is one of the lessons these kids are learning to develop into good young men, in addition to being good players.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.