Shane Semeit visits the crash site most evenings.
He goes to the makeshift memorial to reflect, to ask why, to talk to someone who is no longer here but whom he holds close.
Chic Bist stops by the skinned and scarred tree off Ponderosa Road in Shingle Springs daily. Here his 17-year-old daughter Hope died on May 23, a victim of an early morning, single-car crash on her way to school.
The towering young football player for Capital Christian High School who goes “Big Country” doesn’t meet the grizzled old coach at that tree. Their time is their own, but they are forever linked.
Semeit considers Bist his second father. Their connection is Hope Bist, the youngest of 11 for Chic and Holly Bist. Hope was Semeit’s pal since the eighth grade and his girlfriend the last two years.
On Friday, the Union Mine football team of El Dorado, coached by Bist, scrimmaged at Capital Christian. It was scheduled long before Hope died, but the surreal and sad irony of this event starting the season was not lost on anyone who attended.
Hope was supposed to be there Friday, equal parts a fan of her father’s team and of Capital Christian, where Semeit excels as a starting tackle and defensive end at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds.
Bist coaches with a heavy heart. He’s also battling pancreatic cancer. He said he coaches because he must, and because it is what his daughter would have expected.
“If I didn’t coach,” Bist said, softly, “I’d die for sure. You don’t get over something like this, losing a child. It’s supposed to get easier every day, but there’s pain all the time. I feel for Shane. He’s having a tough time. He’s a big bear of a kid, but he’s still just a kid. That’s what keeps me going, too.”
Semeit competes with Hope in mind. A tattoo that bears her name is on his left bicep. He needs football as much as it needs him. Semeit’s teammates are inspired by his talent and perseverance.
“Football is my way out, my exit from what I’m going through,” Semeit said, the emotions clear on his face.
He was mobbed after the scrimmage by 10 of Hope’s close friends. They made the trip from Shingle Springs, where Hope was a popular student-athlete at Ponderosa High.
Semeit added, “Football is also my way to honor Hope. She would have wanted me to continue on, to do the best I can, and she keeps me going.”
Capital Christian coach Casey Taylor grew up in El Dorado Hills and has known Bist for 30 years. Taylor led 17 uniformed Capital Christian players to the packed memorial service on May 29 in Shingle Springs.
For most of the players, it was the first time they had attended a funeral.
Bist has led a football life for decades. He had NFL tryouts in the early 1970s with the Rams and Redskins and made the American Football Association Semi-Pro Hall of Fame for his years of linebacker play. He has been a coaching institution in the foothills since 1975, including some 30 years at various levels at Ponderosa, where Hope would have been a senior this fall.
A moving pre-kickoff tribute Friday included Taylor handing Bist a large sign at midfield that read, “Hope.” It’s a replica of the sticker Capital Christian players had on their helmets. Semeit and Bist shared a warm embrace.
“I thought it was beautiful and needed,” said Capital Christian pastor Rick Cole.
“It goes beyond wins and losses and a scoreboard with this,” said Jason Harper, a character coach for Capital Christian. “I’ve known Shane forever. I know he’s hurting inside. He’s masking it. We’re talking about planting a tree sometime in honor of Hope, knowing that in storms, there can be growth, new life. He can come back some day and see that tree 50 feet high.”
Semeit, who turns 18 in November, is still growing into his own as an athlete. With good grades and film, he is generating recruiting interest.
“Oh, he can play,” said Dave Hoskins, Semeit’s position coach. “He has great power, great feet, and look at his frame. He’s coachable, too. I think he’ll have a great season.”
Holly Bist, mother of Hope, sat with Semeit’s parents for the scrimmage. Jen and Mark Semeit own a trucking business and live in El Dorado Hills.
“We hurt for our son,” Mark said. “It’d be so much harder if it wasn’t for the Bist family. They’re amazing. We cannot thank them enough for what they’ve done to help Shane.”
Said Jen, “We’re hoping that football helps bring back some happiness for Shane. It’s hard to be happy when it’s not a happy time, but he’s hanging in there. He has hopes and dreams.”
And they included Hope. They were inseparable. They liked to dance, go off-road racing or attend sporting events.
“We had Hope with us for a spring vacation to Oregon because she’s like family. The kids had their lives planned out,” Jen said, her eyes watering. “They were going to do it together. He was going to be a firefighter and she was going to be a trauma nurse. It’s the saddest thing.”
Said Holly Bist, “They shared a love most young adults don’t experience until much older.”
The Bist and Semeit families — and everyone who knew Hope best for her charm and smile — wonder what happened that early May morning. How could someone who has driven that path to school so many times suddenly lose her way?
She was on her way to a first-period Spanish final at Ponderosa, at 6 in the morning, when for whatever reason she ran off the road. Her SUV plowed through several mailboxes on the country road, according to the California Highway Patrol, went through a fence and slammed into a large tree. The vehicle burst into flames.
Mark Semeit broke the news to his son. Semeit and his parents, and the Bist family, do not believe she was distracted.
“They were adamant that they never text while driving, and we’re certain that wasn’t it,” Jen said. “Was it an animal that ran across the road? One thing that Shane struggles with is he wants to know why and how. We may never know.”
Semeit said visiting the crash site helps him deal with the searing grief. He also regularly stops by the Bist home to talk, or, sometimes, just to sit in Hope’s bedroom alone.
“That’s my second home, my second family,” Semeit said. “I thank them every day. And I’ll never stop thinking of Hope.”
Hope kept journals with her favorite quotes and biblical verses, and her family was “very fortunate” to find them, Holly Bist said.
“The first thing we found that caused us to look for more was in the middle of her math binder,” she said. “I was starting to break down, and I turned the page — and all by itself in the middle was, ‘Don’t panic. I’m with you.’ ”