Tears follow emotional win
Members of the winning football team walked off their home turf Friday night with sadness. Instead of the usual rush to meet adoring families and girlfriends and pals, the boys shuffled slow and quiet, some pausing in the shadows cast by empty bleachers to wipe their eyes and breathe.
There’s crying in football.
When two local teens died in tragedies nine days apart early this summer, the loss sent shockwaves through the football family at Chugiak High. On Friday, Aug. 19, that community did its best to heal the wounds left by the loss of Casey Bridges and Fletcher Armstrong.
“You can’t lose kids like that and not feel a terrible, terrible loss for this community,” said Chugiak head coach Duncan Shackelford.
Before the game against rival Eagle River — Chugiak’s home opener — a moment of silence was held to remember Bridges, a 2010 graduate, and Armstrong, who would have been a senior this season. The Mustangs also wore helmet decals to honor their friends, and dedicated their final “Mustang Salute” to the Bridges and Armstrong families.
Chugiak running back Justin Schneider said the Mustangs wanted to make their former teammates proud.
“We were playing for them,” Schneider said after Chugiak’s 35-14 win.
Both boys’ families attended the game, and Casey’s mom, Leesa, said the gestures were greatly appreciated — including those from the opposing sidelines.
“It means a lot that it was Chugiak and Eagle River, because my boy was best friends with kids from both schools,” she said. “Even though we compete and we’re competitive, we’re still one community and one family.”
After fighting in the trenches all night to help his team win, Chugiak captain Kody Trombley fought back tears as he thought about his friends.
“Those are guys I went to battle with, they were guys I loved. We were brothers,” he said. “It’s hard.”
The most touching moment of the evening wasn’t part of the official remembrances. Following their post-game huddle, every Mustang walked over to a dark corner of the stadium where Fletcher’s dad, Wayne, was standing alone. The team surrounded Armstrong, swallowing him up in a giant blue and black bear hug.
The grieving father said he was honored by the team’s spontaneous act of love and friendship.
“I was proud of these guys, and not just for the football game,” he said. “It was hard at the end for me, and they came over and kinda rallied around me and lifted me up. It was real special.”
Though it was difficult to watch, Fletcher’s mom, Linda, said the football game served to remind her how many lives her son touched.
“I’m just happy to see they miss him as much as we do,” she said.
Wayne Armstrong said the special night was a continuation of the support both families have received in the months since the tragedies.
“It’s nice that they remember our son and think so highly of him and Casey,” Armstrong said. “That means a lot to parents. The love that the whole community has shown has been a real wonderful thing for us.”
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org