A QUIET VISIT TO THE BRON­COS MEMO­RIAL SITE

Prayers, tears, hugs and nods as strangers pay trib­ute to those killed in April 6 crash

Windsor Star - - SPORTS - ROB VAN­STONE rvan­stone@post­media.com twit­ter.com/rob­van­stone

No­body says a word. Vis­i­tors to the newly erected Hum­boldt Bron­cos memo­rial qui­etly pay trib­ute to peo­ple whose lives were in­ter­rupted sud­denly, and all too soon, on April 6.

There are prayers, tears and hugs. In­stead of hel­los, there are nods as strangers cross paths. Even­tu­ally, peo­ple re­turn to their ve­hi­cles and slowly drive away.

Al­though 16 crosses vis­i­bly hon­our those who were killed in a bus crash that in­volved the SJHL’s Bron­cos, it is still dif­fi­cult to di­gest the fact that such a cat­a­strophic col­li­sion oc­curred right here, at this in­ter­sec­tion. Only a week and a half ago, a bus and a semi-trailer truck were over­turned at this very spot. The images were dis­sem­i­nated far and wide via so­cial and tra­di­tional me­dia.

Now there is si­lence, and peace, ex­cept for the sound of a pass­ing ve­hi­cle — the speed limit here has been re­duced to 60 km/ h — or an iras­ci­ble crow.

The memo­rial aside, the only sign of the tragedy could be some faded tire marks that lead to­ward a void in the land­scape.

It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the voids in the lives of peo­ple who lost loved ones in the crash. One minute, the Bron­cos were ap­proach­ing Ni­pawin and fo­cus­ing on an SJHL play­off game against the Hawks, and then … Ten sec­onds, even five. Would that blip of time have made a cru­cial dif­fer­ence? What if the bus or the semi had de­parted just a lit­tle ear­lier, or a lit­tle later? What if …?

Across the high­way, there is a stop sign and a flash­ing light. On the pole be­low the stop sign, some­one has af­fixed a bumper sticker: #PRAYERSFORHUMBOLDT #BRONCO STRONG

On this day, the wind is bit­ing — but no­body is both­ered by the con­di­tions, or in any hurry to leave.

With con­sid­er­able care, vis­i­tors to the memo­rial have left writ­ten or sym­bolic tributes to the vic­tims of the crash. There are T-shirts, Cana­dian flags, caps, pucks, teddy bears, skates, mag­a­zines, flow­ers, and so many hockey sticks of all sizes. One per­son left a cof­fee cup. Es­pe­cially poignant is the sight of a small replica of a Char­lie’s Char­ters bus — the full-scale ver­sion of which was be­ing driven by Glen Do­erk­sen when tragedy in­ter­vened.

Kim has writ­ten “2 honks for you, Glen,” ref­er­enc­ing Do­erk­sen’s ac­cus­tomed re­sponse to a vic­tory.

In front of the memo­rial, some­one has rolled out a tarp to pre­vent peo­ple from hav­ing to nav­i­gate through the mud. Peo­ple typ­i­cally shuf­fle from left to right, cov­er­ing the 10-me­tre width of the memo­rial.

As a back­drop, there are crosses — 16 in all — which have been erected by Rocky Sal­is­bury of Ni­pawin. On each cross, he has care­fully writ­ten a first name. Lo­gan B. Lo­gan H. Lo­gan S. Ja­cob. Evan. Glen. Jaxon. Con­ner. Stephen. Mark. Brody. Dayna. Adam. Parker. Tyler. Darcy.

How could this be? It is all there be­fore me, but I am still in dis­be­lief.

I have cov­ered ju­nior hockey for 30-plus years and dealt with thou­sands of play­ers be­tween the ages of 16 and 21. In all that time, I have not had a bad ex­pe­ri­ence with any of them. Not one.

IM­PRESSED AND IN­SPIRED

Had I known any of these young men, they would have im­pressed and in­spired me. I am cer­tain of it. I feel it.

Lo­gan Schatz, for ex­am­ple, was the Bron­cos’ cap­tain for 21/2 years. How many ju­nior hockey play­ers wear the C for that long ? I wish we had met.

None of this seems real, even when it is di­rectly in front of me. I wish the junc­tion of Hwys. 35 and 335 was just an­other in­ter­sec­tion, like count­less oth­ers that will be part of my drive through Saskatchewan. Even­tu­ally, the time seems right to re­turn to my ve­hi­cle. I pass a young man who is wear­ing an At­lanta Braves cap. He is ar­riv­ing as I am poised to depart. We ex­change nods, where­upon I drive slowly through the mud and to­ward Hwy. 35.

The car ra­dio is turned off. So, for a change, is the CD player that usu­ally en­ables the en­tire neigh­bour­hood to hear some jazz. Twenty-some kilo­me­tres shy of Tis­dale, there is si­lence.

BRANDON HARDER

Rocky Sal­is­bury of Ni­pawin sets up crosses at the in­ter­sec­tion of high­ways 35 and 335, where the Hum­boldt Bron­cos’ bus crashed.

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