By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND — Athletes who are rivals on the playing field join together in times of grief.
On Tuesday, three hundred Guilderland students gathered in the gym to show their support for two athletes hospitalized after a car crash and their sympathy for the two athletes who were killed in the crash.
Rather than wearing their school color of red, the Guilderland students wore green for Shenendehowa and blue for Shaker.
Shenendehowa seniors Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers were killed in a Northway crash Saturday night when, State Police say, the sport utility vehicle driven by Stewart was rear-ended by a drunk driver.
Stewart was captain of Shen’s football team and Rivers was on the varsity softball team. The two injured passengers are also athletes: Bailey Wind, a Shaker gymnast, and Matthew Hardy, a Shen football player.
“I did gymnastics with Bailey when I was little,” said Casie Girvin, a Guilderland gymnast who organized Tuesday’s Guilderland gathering. Learning of Saturday’s accident, she said, “stirred me up a lot.”
Girvin worked with two assistant principals at the school, Lisa Patierne and David Brooks, making school announcements. Girvin also used social media, tweeting and posting Facebook messages.
“I thought about 50 people would show up,” she said of the gathering behind a huge banner. Instead, several hundred students gathered.
They posed with a banner stating, “Guilderland supports Shaker & Shen.” Girvin plans to present the banner to Shenendehowa next week.
Another athlete, Gaby Peda,
who helped organize the event, described what it was like to get a bird’s eye view of the crowd in the gym on Tuesday. She stood next to Samantha Pitkin who took the photograph.
“I stood on that ladder and it was an amazing moment,” she said. “All of those people were there, together, for the same thing.”
No urging was needed to get the students to gather. “It wasn’t like ‘Come to the gym, come to the gym,’” said Peda. “They volunteered to show up.”
Peda, the senior class president, plays tennis and is a member of the Red Sea, Guilderland’s cheering section at games. “The Red Sea is huge,” she said, and, in the wake of the accident, its members wanted to do something.
“You could just see it in people’s faces after the weekend,” she said. With social media so prominent, she said, you can’t get away from bad news. “On twitter, there were 1,000 tweets in under 10 minutes,” said Peda. “It’s with us every second…Something needed to be done.”
Coming together made people feel better, said Peda. “You knew there were 299 people next to you,” she said.
Acts of kindness
During Wednesday’s lunch period at Guilderland High School, students signed the banner as Girvin spoke with The Enterprise about its meaning.
“Sports is a huge thing in high school,” she said. “You meet the people you compete against.” Guilderland, Shen, and Shaker all play in the same Suburban Council.
“You want to be your best and you want to win,” Girvin went on. “These relationships with rivals are friendly. When something happens, you put aside the competitive side of yourself.”
She conceded, “We can’t heal their wounds. But it may ease a little bit of the pain,” she said of presenting the banner.
At the same time that Guilderland students were tweeting each other about wearing green to school on Monday for Shen and blue on Tuesday for Shaker, they were also part of a hashtag campaign to get athletes admired by Matt Hardy and Bailey Wind to call them in the hospital.
“Tim Tebow is a famous football player and he’s Matt’s ideal; that’s what one of Matt’s close friends said. The same with Missy and Bailey,” she said, referring to Olympic gold medalist swimmer Melissa Franklin.
“Friends and family were saying, ‘Please re-tweet,’” said Girvin. “I have family in Syracuse and they were doing it. It was trending worldwide,” she said of #TebowCallMatt and #MissyCallBailey.
“Someone tweeted them the numbers and they actually called,” said Girvin.
She explained the meaning of such calls. “Think of the number-one person in your life you look up to. You share a connection. Tim Tebow is a celebrity. A lot of people think of a celebrity as untouchable. He gets millions of tweets a day. To know that Tim Tebow reached out to Matt in his time of need is inspiring.
“You realize they are real people, too, and care. It puts famous people at the same level as us, which makes us feel better.”
Patierne, an assistant principal at the high school, said that one of the student posts that most struck her was, “Adults always talk about how inappropriate we are with our technology, but just look what we got done.”
Patierne, with others from Guilderland, went to the Shenendehowa vigil on Tuesday night. She described the students from all different districts, lining the track, wearing their school colors. “It was so touching. Grown men were crying,” said Patierne. “I’ve heard our students saying it’s support that shows community and will help them heal. They’re adversaries on the field, but they’re pulling together.”
Patierne’s son, a Schenectady student, attended the vigil with some of his friends, all wearing their school colors. They stopped to eat before the vigil at a Friendly’s in Clifton Park and talked with some Shenendehowa parents also going to the vigil. Moved by the boys’ conversation, the Shen parents paid for their meal.
“The waitress came up and told the boys, ‘They bought your dinner,’” said Patierne. “There are just so many acts of kindness.”
Despite such comfort — from care shown by famous athletes or strangers and from the solidarity of gathering together — Girvin is still shaken.
“Last night, I was covering a work shift for a Shen student going to the vigil,” she said. So Girvin was driving on the Northway towards the Clifton Park gymnastics gym where she works, heading north just as Stewart had on Saturday night.
“I’m passing the Twin Bridges, and goose bumps were coming on my body,” she said. The fatal crash took place about a mile north of the Twin Bridges.
“I just passed the point,” she went on. “It’s a scary thought. You could be a brilliant student, a good athlete, and it doesn’t matter. You’re not safe from people who make bad choices.”
Another hashtag that has been trending among her peers, Girvin said, is #IPledgeToNeverDrinkAndDrive.
“Someone your age being killed is a scary thought,” Girvin went on. “It makes people realize you have to look out for things. We’re all young drivers. If I look out for the people around me — I keep looking in the rearview mirror — it makes me feel safer.”