Many in the state of Florida, and indeed across the nation, are still grieving the enormous loss of life when a gunman fatally shot 17 students and teachers less than two weeks ago — but the community enjoyed a major sports achievement over the weekend.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School boys hockey team took home the Lightning High School Hockey League Tier 1 state title this past weekend, though they were underdogs in the tournament.
They entered as the number-four seed, the lowest seed competing, and on Saturday, they lost both their games. However, they rallied on Sunday, knocking off top-seeded East Lake, 3-1, in the morning before soundly defeating Jesuit High (Tampa) 7-4 in the championship game in the afternoon.
“This wasn’t for us. This was for the 17 victims,” senior Matthew Horowitz told WPLG Miami-Fort Lauderdale. “No one was lacking energy in the locker room. We all came to play. We were all ready.”
The win is certainly beneficial to the community and is one more instance in which local sports teams can bring communities closer together. Playing sports or watching sports — or both — can be extremely enjoyable (and can distract from life’s tougher situations), so the community’s rallying around this particular team will likely prove to be healing.
In the past, many sports teams have served to rally grieving communities. Most recently, the Houston Astros accomplished this last year, post-Hurricane Harvey. The storm caused $125 billion worth of damage in Texas and left 75 people dead.
The Astros were among many who stepped up during the tragedy. The team immediately donated $4 million to Hurricane Harvey relief, while shortstop Carlos Correa helped give over 500 beds to children impacted by the storm.
On the field, the team also took the World Series just nine weeks after the storm. The Astros, the best team in baseball, gave the community something to cheer for at a time of devastation. After they became champs, an estimated 1 million fans turned out for their celebration parade.
Two other Major League Baseball teams proved crucial to their cities’ healing processes after terror attacks. Post-9/11, New York City rallied around the Yankees during the team’s World Series run — a team that plays just a few miles from Ground Zero.
The Yankees and the New York Mets swapped out their traditional caps for ones honoring the NYPD and NYFD, while teams across the league added American flag patches to their jerseys and sang “God Bless America” during the seventh innings of games, along with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Tensions were still high in NYC after 9/11, as civilians feared another potential terror attack, but the Yankees’ success helped ease the worries. Then-President George W. Bush took the mound prior to game three of the World Series that year, delivering a perfect strike for his first pitch. This prompted a “USA” chant to break out in the park.
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Twelve years later, the Boston Marathon bombing rocked an entire community. The explosions killed four people (including MIT police Officer Sean Collier) and left many others badly injured. The city of Boston was essentially on lockdown for the rest of the week — and the next major event open to the public was the Boston Red Sox game against the Kansas City Royals. Prior to that, slugger David Ortiz delivered a powerful speech.
Not only did the Red Sox and Major League Baseball donate over $600,000 to the “One Fund” for survivors, but the Sox also draped a 617 (Boston area code) “Boston Strong” jersey in the team dugout when they were on the road, reminding them of whom they were playing for: the city of Boston.
Ultimately the Red Sox, who came in last place in 2012, rallied to win the 2013 World Series, though many sports outlets had pegged them as an average team and not much more that year. The Sox gave Boston a reason to be hopeful and a reason to smile again, despite the evil that occurred on Patriots Day that year.
Playing and watching sports brings joy to millions, and fan bases rally around local teams and build their own sense of community. When tragedies occur, these support systems can provide some comfort throughout the grieving and healing processes — which can take a very long time.
Loved ones killed or injured will never be forgotten; the lives of entire families and communities are forever changed by tragedies such as the Parkland massacre. However, survivors push on as best they can and begin the slow, steady process of trying to become whole again — and enjoy the great gift of life while they have it.
Following their state championship win, Marjory Stoneman Douglas is now eligible for the USA Hockey National Championships in Minnesota this March. If the team chooses to attend, that would likely be an extraordinarily special moment for the community. With the political drama that has ensued now after the shooting, Parkland could certainly use more unifying moments.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.