Hometown Report: Football coaches reach out in wake of tragedy

Published: Saturday, Sep. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Friday, Sep. 6, 2013 - 6:20 pm

Coaches relish the chance to beat each other on game night, yes. But there's an interesting thing about this fraternity.

They stick together amid crisis.

This region has experienced its share of high school player and coaching deaths through the years. It never gets easier. The healing generally includes support beyond the immediate inner circle with football games serving as a diversion and a cause.

In the early 1990s, Nevada Union and Grass Valley were rocked when two players were killed in a car accident. Football kept everyone together. The Miners won a Sac-Joaquin Section title in 1994 in honor of those players.

Nevada Union coach Dave Humphers remembers. He said no amount of training prepares a coach suddenly confronted with a tragedy.

In the wake of a Grant assistant football coach's apparent murder-suicide last weekend, Humphers reached out to his rival coach. Humphers and Grant coach Mike Alberghini haven't always been the chummiest of pals through the decades, but a tragedy can quickly alter that, Humphers said.

"I called Mike because it was the human thing to do," Humphers said. "So many of us have lost a player or a coach that was close to us. I told Mike, 'Those kids always need you, but they need you more than ever.' Football is a brotherhood, and sometimes that bond, that need to be together, really stands out in a time like this."

Humphers reminded that high school football players – all teenagers – are susceptible to real-life issues. The city, the suburbs, the foothills.

Doesn't matter, he said. They need each other just as much.

"There are kids everywhere who are hurting – a fight with a parent, no food at home, losing a loved one – and maybe the only positive thing in their life is time with their coaches and teammates," Humphers said. "Sometimes players just need some love, to feel, 'Hey, I'm somebody important, at least to my coach and teammates.' And that's really true during hard times."

Del Oro coach Casey Taylor spoke at length with his old friend Alberghini this week by phone. The teams played a nonleague game Friday night at Grant. Normally the coaches would meet hours before kickoff to rib each other and downplay their seasons. This time they embraced.

Del Oro has lost student-athletes in car wrecks and used sports to cope.

As Grant and Del Oro played, Rio Linda took the field against Center. Rio Linda coach Mike Morris had his players wear Grant helmet stickers "in support of our Grant cousins."

Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said his team was jolted this summer when a popular classmate committed suicide. Coming up short on a goal-line stand suddenly seems so meaningless, Cavaliere said.

"He was so close to so many of our players … very difficult," Cavaliere said. "You keep the kids together and do the best you can because there's no manual for dealing with it."

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