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A week filled with tears and fears



Published: Sun, June 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The community in which I live lost two prized possessions last week.

Jon Stauffer, 15-year-old freshman at West Branch High, and Kelly Coblentz, a 16-year-old sophomore, were struck down by a terrible, swift disease. I hope you've read their stories this week.

Both were athletes who attained varsity status in a relatively quick period of time.

Kelly was a member of the varsity basketball and softball teams.

In the school district's 41-year history, one football player has earned four varsity letters. Jon would have been the second.

Depression, fear: But the stories of Jon and Kelly extended far beyond the fields and courts on which they competed.

I'd like to share with you one of those stories.

Since I first learned of Jon's death, I've had what feels like a rock in the pit of my stomach. News of Kelly's passing only served to deepen my depression.

The shock we've all felt surrounding the tragic, swift circumstances in which they perished was equaled only by the fear we felt for own children.

Was the disease spreading? If so, how quickly? How much danger were others in?

These were all questions racing through our minds, and we were not alone, which was evidenced by the large crowd that poured into the high school gymnasium Sunday night to find out what our school and medical officials had learned and could tell us.

At times, the atmosphere teetered between fear and outrage. Some parents were looking to place blame and the school district's officials were easy targets, but, let's be honest, they had no more idea what was happening than any of us.

The big guy: I knew Jon only by saying hello to him from time to time. He was one year older than my son; I first got to know him when he was in the eighth grade and I watched him as a member of the basketball and football teams.

Once, following basketball practice, as he was waiting for a ride home a light rain fell, so we offered him a seat in our van. Jon was 6-feet-4, 260 pounds as a freshman, so you can imagine how the vehicle swayed when he crawled in. There were two other boys in the car that late afternoon. We joked later they could have stayed dry simply by walking beside Jon in the rain.

I didn't know Kelly personally, other than watching her play sports.

But, as I've read the many tributes that have been posted on web sites, and read the stories this week and talked to people in our community who knew her well, she was obviously the kind of person who made friends easily.

I can't possibly begin to imagine the grief of Jon and Kelly's families. The only thing that comes close is the fear of realization of how easily it could have been my own children, or cost even more lives.

So often, we can distance ourselves from tragedy because it happened in a far-away place.

When it strikes so close to home, there are the feelings of sympathy for the victims' families, but in this case there is also a great sense of helplessness. These children were taken from us, without warning.

Close-knit community: Our school community is very large; in terms of square miles, I read once that it is the largest in the state. But despite the vastness, there is a great sense of community spirit there, especially when it concerns educational and extra-curricular support. Our families built a new football stadium, donated money for a new auditorium, and just last fall, agreed in a referendum to support the reconstruction or renovation of every building in the district.

So often in these pages we celebrate the accomplishments of young people just like Jon and Kelly.

This week, there have been only tears.

XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at todor@vindy.com




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