When news of the recent bus accident that took the lives of four North Texas community college students broke, it hit close to home for administrators and softball players at Weatherford College.
On Sept. 26, the North Central Texas College (NCTC) softball team was returning home from a scrimmage against Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla., when the team bus was struck by an 18-wheel truck that had veered into oncoming traffic on Interstate 35, near Davis, Okla.
The bus, carrying 15 players and being driven by head coach Van Hedrick, was badly damaged and four players - 18-year-old freshman infielder Katelynn Woodlee, 19-year-old sophomore pitcher Meagan Richardson, 20-year-old sophomore catcher Jaiden Pelton and 20-year-old sophomore infielder Brooke Deckard - were killed. Two other team members remain in an Oklahoma hospital and nine additional players and the coach were treated and released. Bailey Buchanan, 18, is listed in critical condition at OU Medical Center, and Rachel Hitt, 19, is still being treated at Norman Regional Hospital.
NCTC is in the same conference as Weatherford College and the various teams play each other often and many of the athletes are friends. So when a prayer vigil was held on Sept. 28 on the campus of NCTC in Gainesville, WC head softball coach Haylee Williams said most of the Coyotes girls attended.
“We are a close conference and the softball community isn’t that big to begin with so the girls just wanted to be there to support their friends, ” Williams said, adding that each WC player handed a flower to the NCTC softball coach.
The following Monday, on behalf of the college, WC President Dr. Kevin Eaton sent his and the school’s condolences and also authorized the sending of a $1,000 donation to the Angels in the Infield Scholarship Fund that has been set up by NCTC in the girls’ honor.
“I just felt like we are all family and their loss was our loss too,” Eaton said. “It was a tough weekend [after we heard the news] and it makes you think what if it was your child?”
Williams said the Coyotes were scheduled to get on a bus similar to the one NCTC was on the day after the crash but that after meeting with her team Sept. 26, there was “no way I could ask them to do that.” The women were supposed to play a scrimmage against Abilene Christian.
“Mentally and emotionally, we wouldn’t have been able to put our best effort out on the field,” Williams said. “It’s been hard...this is a coach’s worst nightmare and it’s tough to think what those players and coaches and families are going through.”
During a practice Sept. 29, all the Coyotes players wore red and blue - NCTC’s colors - in honor of the team. Williams said they are also having red and blue sweatbands made with NCTC embroidered on it that they will wear this season.
On Saturday, the Coyotes will host the Texas Terror for a doubleheader beginning at 6 p.m. and Williams said all of the gate monies will be donated to the medical fund that has been set up to help the families of the players in the hospital. She added that any donations fans would like to bring will also be accepted.
“There really are no words to say,” Williams said. “We sent them a card in the mail but...it’s just so hard.”