For a few hours, it felt nor­mal again

Stone­man Dou­glas foot­ball team holds tra­di­tional mid­night prac­tice, hon­ours coach slain in mas­sacre

The Province - - SPORTS - TIM REYNOLDS

PARK­LAND, Fla. — The first prac­tice of the new sea­son was over, and the only sound on the cam­pus of Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School was dozens of foot­ball play­ers scream­ing in de­light.

At 2:15 a.m., they were hav­ing a wa­ter bal­loon fight.

Fi­nally, on a cam­pus known for tragedy, there was joy.

The Ea­gles — now am­bas­sadors for a school and a com­mu­nity that in many ways is still reel­ing from the Feb. 14 mas­sacre that left 17 peo­ple dead, in­clud­ing as­sis­tant foot­ball coach Aaron Feis, who was killed while try­ing to use his body to shield stu­dents from the cas­cade of bul­lets — took the field for prac­tice at 12:01 a.m. Mon­day, since un­der Florida rules teams could be­gin their fall work­outs on July 30. So they didn’t wait a minute longer.

“This is the only thing we have to show our re­spect,” Ea­gles coach Wil­lis May Jr. said .“This is the way we can show our re­spect to those guys, with our great ef­fort and with our great at­ti­tudes.”

Dou­glas has had the “mid­night mad­ness” prac­tice on open­ing day sev­eral times be­fore, but this was dif­fer­ent. A uni­formed sher­iff ’s deputy was on cam­pus through­out the evening, his patrol ve­hi­cle parked ad­ja­cent to the field dur­ing prac­tice. The site of the shoot­ings — the 1200 build­ing, as it is known — is still there, cor­doned off by a chain-link fence. Many want it lev­elled, but for now it stands be­cause it’s es­sen­tially ev­i­dence, a crime scene.

“Our com­mu­nity is still very much in the trau­ma­tized heal­ing process,” said Park­land Mayor Chris­tine Hun­schof­sky, who sat in the bleach­ers with about 100 other peo­ple for the mid­dle-of-the-night prac­tice. “This is not a sprint. This is ab­so­lutely a marathon.”

The re­minders are ev­ery- where. There is one locker with a door painted gold in the locker-room — it be­longed to Joaquin (Guac) Oliver, one of the 17 vic­tims who was buried in the jer­sey of Mi­ami Heat star Dwyane Wade. The fence around the 1200 build­ing is partly cov­ered by ban­ners with mes­sages of sup­port from neigh­bour­ing schools. In­side the cafe­te­ria, where par­ents re­ported for the pre-sea­son meet­ing, an­other ban­ner still hangs. It’s from the stu­dents of Columbine High School, where a sim­i­lar tragedy took place in 1999.

On the field, there are more ban­ners with re­minders to play for Feis and how to be “MSD Strong.” The shirts most of the coaches wore had some re­minder of the shoot­ing.

Put sim­ply, there’s no es­cap­ing it. A school that was a sanc­tu­ary is now, in many ways, a memo­rial.

The Ea­gles ob­vi­ously did not want this at­ten­tion.

They did not want to be asked to play a Cana­dian team in Georgia on Sept. 1 to open the sea­son, but now view it as a great op­por­tu­nity. They did not want to see Feis, ath­letic di­rec­tor Chris Hixon, cross coun­try coach Scott Beigel — all vic­tims on Feb. 14 — hon­oured with the Best Coach award at the ESPYs.

They would rather see things go back to nor­mal, what­ever that was be­fore the af­ter­noon of Feb. 14.

The re­minders notwith­stand­ing, boys were be­ing boys Sun­day night as they waited for prac­tice. They had a team meet­ing in the bleach­ers to go over fundrais­ing plans, and whooped for joy when it came time to tape a pro­mo­tional video. Back in the locker-room after­ward, some laid on the hard tile floor, oth­ers chilled on benches, vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one on their phones.

It was loud and fes­tive. It was foot­ball sea­son. And for a few hours, it felt nor­mal again.


Mem­bers of the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School foot­ball team pray to­gether as they be­gan prac­tice just af­ter mid­night on Mon­day in Park­land, Fla.

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