Athletics can be such a beautiful and uniting therapeutic agent. Northwest High School really needed it to be.
On Feb. 18, it seemed like all of Justin packed its side of Colleyville Heritage’s gym for the boys Class 5A Region I bi-district playoff basketball game. The noise reached extreme levels. Cheers were positive. You could tell everyone one wanted to be there.
In the grand scheme, it probably didn’t matter that the Texans lost their game to Arlington Bowie.
Really, the community needed to be there.
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It was in athletics where the terrible tragedy that took the life of an aspiring girls basketball player and likely ended the basketball hopes for another who is fighting for her life.
Two weeks ago on the bridge that nears the high school, a driver went too fast on the slick and icy road and slammed into Katelyn ShyAnn Hooper’s Ford Contour, killing her and seriously injuring Brianna Christensen.
Both Hooper and Christensen evolved as important pieces of head coach Rusty Johnson’s resurrection of a program that has been down for so long. While the Lady Texans just missed the playoffs in 2013-2014, hopes for the 2014-2015 had never been higher.
And then a call on that Monday came in that no parent and no other person connected to these two young women wanted to take. To rationalize the why is pointless.
This terrible accident shook a community to its core. And this wasn’t the first time this happened to this district. Two years ago, Byron Nelson boys basketball player Josh Hernandez was killed in a car accident returning from the girls soccer team’s playoff game in Wichita Falls.
“I can’t imagine what the parents are going through,” Johnson said. “We sell our kids short of their ability to feel sorrow and emotion because we’re in such a technological age. It’s been real and the kids and the adults have turned to each other. But our community has rallied.”
Johnson remembers Hooper as a person who never believed in doing anything related to her sport at half-speed. That includes going through a game-day walk-through. That’s just not who she was.
In fact, Hooper was a starter for the early part of the year until Briana Barnhill returned from volleyball. But Hooper contributed. Plans for her to be an important cog in 2014-2015 were tangible.
This is a column that won’t try and present the life of Christensen and reflect on the impact she had with people. That has been covered over the last two weeks.
This is a column that reflects how a community, a program and a high school can respond to this.
Tragedies can cause those to either fall apart or unite. The actions tell us Northwest has done the latter. All you needed to know that was shown two days after the accident, when the boys basketball team played Keller Fossil Ridge and won in overtime, 73-68.
Minutes after the game ended and most of the crowd had filed out of the gym, members of the boys team, unprompted, found Hooper’s dad. Each player gave him a hug just to let him know they loved him and his family and that they were there.
That’s real. That’s what counts.
The void will never be filled. But it’s Johnson’s job to get to continue the rebuilding process. This past Monday came with work in the offseason. Then it was Tuesday followed by today and so on. There will be other Mondays.
That’s exactly what Northwest must do. Hooper will never be forgotten. Everyone who knew her likely will never accept it. But they will learn to live with it. That’s OK.
Curran said that he’s used Hernandez’s death as a rallying agent. Players who never knew him now play for him. Johnson is in the early stages of learning how to manage through this devastation. The answers will come over time.
The Northwest family took a very important step last week. Knowing where she is, that’s all Hooper would want.