Not just a team ... family
Life of Reid Gates will not soon be forgotten
Big burly fathers hugged their sons tighter than usual. Proud mothers smiled and waited for the warm embrace of their football player sons.
It’s been a week like none other for the town of Cedaredge and its high school.
As Friday night’s football game ended, players from Cedaredge and Dolores gathered at midfield, bowed their heads, held hands and prayed.
Football players united as one.
“One, two, three family!” ‘FAMILY,” the players screamed in unison.
Football was a much-needed distraction for the town, the students and players.
Reid Gates was on everyone’s mind.
In small towns like Cedaredge, the exploits of young men like Reid Gates will be told and retold in homes and businesses for decades. The legend and life of Reid Gates will not soon be forgotten.
On Friday night, hundreds came wearing the blue of Cedaredge to cheer for the Bruins and to remember a gifted athlete and a special young man.
“Reid was phenomenal,” Katie Johnson said.
As an agriculture education instructor she taught Reid in the Future Farmers of America program.
“He was phenomenal and he touched so many lives,” she said.
A student, tears streaming down her cheeks, went to Johnson and fell into her arms. The teacher held her tight, whispering in her ear.
That’s the kind of night it was. Some tears, lots of hugs, a blend of sorrow and happiness as the small town cheered on the football team, remembered Reid Gates, and healed a little.
Reid died Monday night from accidental carbon-monoxide poisoning. Two other Cedaredge student-athletes were stricken and flown to a Denver hospital. Tyler Cooper has been released, while Aaron Henrie remains in critical condition at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.
“It’s been a tough week,” Kevin Walker said. The Cedaredge fire chief and father of team captain and quarterback Trent Walker let out a sigh. “A real tough week. Everybody in the community was impacted.”
That’s what small towns are like. Friends are everywhere, and everyone is your neighbor.
Reid’s death has not only united the small town but the entire region. Schools from around the region have showered Cedaredge with support.
Paonia quarterback Ty Coats and nearly half of the Eagles’ football team came to Cedaredge on Friday night to show their support.
“We’re rivals, but we’re family. I just can’t believe that this happened. It really hit our team hard,” Coats said.
He dropped off posters in Reid’s honor to be displayed at today’s funeral service to be held at the high school. As many as 3,000 people are expected to attend.
Paonia has a game today, or the football team would be at the service, Coats said.
Students and athletes from Paonia, Hotchkiss and Delta dressed in blue this week and sent photos and signed cards.
The Paonia kids also signed a No. 22 jersey and sent it to the school.
No. 22 was Reid’s number. That was evident Friday night as a field of “True Blue 22” blue and white T-shirts soaked the sidelines and bleachers.
“We sold out of the T-shirts in minutes,” Cedaredge counselor of 25 years Lynne Sederstrom said.
She took a breath, reining in her emotions.
“Reid was special. He was a leader, an athlete, kids from kindergarten to seniors looked up to him,” she said.
She said she was working with Reid on applying to a number of military academies.
As cheers of “Let’s go Bruins” echoed off Grand Mesa, the Cedaredge players found solace in the game of football.
Wearing “22” stickers on the back of their helmets, Cedaredge played a great game and won 42-0.
With their own “22” stickers, even the Dolores Bears were united in their support of Reid Gates and his teammates.
As fans arrived for the game, they were greeted with huge sign with a giant “22.” It read: “Those we have held in our arms for a little while, we will hold in our hearts forever.”
Friday night was about remembering Reid. But for his teammates it was also about the game and the chance to shove the sad memories away for a few hours.
“We told Trent on Wednesday night, when you put that helmet on, it’s not to protect your head, it’s to keep all the bad stuff out,” Kevin Walker said.
“Everything that happens inside that helmet is good. It’s your safe haven,” Walker said.
Talking to the people of Cedaredge, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, they all talk about the young man who left an indelible mark on the town. But they speak of the quality of the young man as much as the achievements of the athlete.
Parents and teachers have struggled with trying to find a way to ease the pain their children and students are feeling.
For Johnson, she wanted to make sure the students understood it was OK to be sad, and then they shared stories and photos of Reid.
A photo of Reid stuffed into a shopping cart flying down a hill. Reid crammed inside a trash can. Reid smiling. Reid having fun. Reid being Reid. They were the kind of photos and stories that help smiles and laughter overpower the sadness, at least for a little while.
Showing unimaginable courage in the face of this tragedy, Reid’s parents, Ken and Cheryl Gates, came to the school and spoke to the students, helping them deal with their pain and sorrow.
“It’s something that they will probably never completely get over,” Kevin Walker said of the students. “They will always have Reid in their heart. He was a good kid. He was a pretty special boy.”
On Friday, Cedaredge residents gathered to watch the Bruins play football, as they always do. But on this Friday night, it was Reid Gates who united them.
They were united in their love of the Bruins, united in their sorrow and mostly united in their memories of a special young man.
Reid Gates will not soon be forgotten.