The story below and photo above are provided courtesy of the Bureau County Republican
and reprinted with their consent. The story originally ran on January 15, 2016:
KEWANEE — Sport gave way to life and death Thursday, Jan. 14, at Kewanee High School.
The Boiler Girls were up 46-14 on the way to a runaway Three Rivers Conference victory over visiting Princeton when KHS superintendent Chris Sullens stepped to the scorer's table at halftime. He made the somber announcement that a KHS student, a 15-year-old freshman girl, had passed away earlier that evening.
School officials had just pulled the KHS student body in attendance aside to inform them of the death with the news already spreading via social media and texts.
Suddenly the game and the Boiler Girls' conference championship drive didn't mean anything anymore. The Kewanee girls remained in the locker room minutes after the halftime buzzer sounded upon hearing about the tragedy. They slowly entered the gym with tears and hugs, and there was a question if the game would continue.
Kewanee coach Chuck Blake left that decision to his four captains, who made the determination to continue the game. The Boiler Girls finished off the victory, 70-34 to maintain their hold atop at the TRAC standings.
"We pulled the captains aside and said you guys are going to present it (to them). You talk over what you want to do and we're going to talk to administrators. Pretty soon the captains came over and said, 'We want to play, we want to finish it.' I said OK. I was very, very proud of those four kids. They all played volleyball, they all know this girl."
The postgame went beyond the proper protocol of simple handshakes. The two teams met at half court, united in a group huddle around the center circle, breaking up with Princeton players comforting their rivals with hugs and kind thoughts in a tremendous show of sportsmanship and compassion.
Blake said he was deeply moved by Princeton's show of compassion.
"The gesture of solidarity and compassion demonstrated by the Princeton student-athletes will be etched in my memory forever," he said. "I know for a fact that it was comforting to our varsity who had struggled over the right thing to do after the halftime announcement. The Kewanee School community is extremely grateful and beholding to Princeton's role in our recovery."
Blake, formerly coach of his hometown Neponset Lady Zephyrs, said he has never experienced something like this in 40 years of coaching and wanted to do the right thing. He said PHS coach Jeff Ohlson's opinions "were a comfort as we tried to resolve what would be best for players, schools and community."
"There's bigger things than basketball. Tonight we had to support the Kewanee basketball team and their community. We tried to do the best to heed the wishes they wanted tonight," Ohlson said. "We were there to support their decisions and help them in what we could. I've got a great group of kids that care not only about their community and themselves, but the teams they play. They're a great group of kids as far as sportsmanship goes."
Ohlson said he talked to the girls about making sure they showed their support and left it up to them to do what they felt was best.
"They took the lead from there and organized (the postgame huddle) and I was extremely proud of them for their efforts for doing those things. There's bigger things going on life and basketball's a small thing," Ohlson said.
Kewanee athletic director Tim Atwell said Friday morning the school has pulled counselors from their entire district to help with both the students and staff. He said it has been a tough day there for everyone.
He said the deceased student's father was out of the country and was flying home immediately. He does not know the family's plans and wishes at this time.
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