DARRINGTON — This was supposed to be a story about sports helping a town heal; about a community very much in need of a diversion receiving one in the form of Friday’s baseball and softball games at Darrington High School.
Instead, Friday was another chance for a resilient town, its impressive youth, and those very athletes who were supposed to finally get this chance to be kids, to impress us with their tireless desire to help in the days following one of the worst natural disasters in state history.
Officially, spring break started noon Friday, but this part of the school’s family resource center, which has been converted to the food center, is buzzing with students who are collecting, organizing and delivering food donations to anyone who needs it or handing them out to walk-ins. Many of these kids have been staying each night until adults force them to go home at 10 p.m., and they’ll keep doing so until their help is no longer needed. Oliver and Ben Rankin, the sons of Darrington mayor Dan Rankin, asked athletic director Cory Ross if they could just work until they got tired, sleep on the floor in the building, then get up and continue working. He said no.
School is out, but this week of spring will be anything but a break.
“School’s been out for three hours now but nobody’s left,” said Trent Green, a junior on Darrington’s baseball team. “Everybody’s still here. This is where everybody feels like they need to be.”
Or as Marissa Pennington, a junior on the softball team put it, “The town needs our help, and we can help, so why not?”
And while there are obviously much more important things happening in the wake of Saturday’s landslide in Oso, sports too will play a part of the healing, just as they so often have for communities and countries trying to cope with horrific loss. That’s why students, coaches, administrators and just about everyone else in town so badly wanted to make Friday’s scheduled games happen, despite a soggy field — Logger Lake as it is known around here — and the persistent rain that has been around most of the week. An overzealous promise to play rain-or-shine was made at a town meeting Thursday night, but when Ross walked onto the squishy field Friday morning, and when the rain returned later in the day, he knew the fun and games would have to wait.
“We had that public meeting last night and every parent, every community member that talked about it, it was, ‘We have to play this game. We need this,’” Ross said.
“We really could have used something, yeah … It would have been nice for the kids, just to play.”
Already some Darrington athletes have gotten a taste of the necessary and wonderful diversion sports can provide. The baseball team has had a few practices, though head coach Cam Ross has been excusing players who want to spend their afternoons volunteering. The JV softball team, with several varsity players in tow, played a game at Sedro-Wooley on Wednesday.
“I’m hoping this can be therapy, get their minds off of it, get away from it for a little while,” said Cam Ross, Cory Ross’ cousin. “For some of them I think it’s helped in that regard. It’s just a break, but at soon as practice is over, it’s helping again to move food or whatever they can do.”
Some softball players were hesitant to leave town Wednesday, and yes, to have fun while others were hurting or working tirelessly back home, but those couple of hours away turned into a welcome, if brief, escape from the devastation close to home.
“At first I didn’t want to go,” Pennington said. “I thought we should cancel the game because I didn’t want to leave. There’s so much more we can do here than go play, but having the game was actually so good to get away and just play for a little while. It was really good. It was just nice to be around a game and throw the ball around; just play. It was good getting away for a little while.”
Instead of getting away Friday, these kids kept giving back. Cory Ross marveled at the way Oliver Rankin, a member of Darrington’s wrestling team, has taken over leadership of the makeshift food center.
The elder Rankin brother, like so many others, has been moved by the way Darrington has come together under these horrible circumstances. Like everyone else, he was looking forward to taking in a ballgame, to watching his little brother play for the Loggers. Instead, there was work to be done, so they were out here lifting, loading and organizing in that same rain that cancelled the afternoon’s chance at fun.
“It’s incredible the way people have come together, really wonderful,” Rankin said. “After going through an experience like this, we’ll always be strong.”
Eventually sports will play a bigger role in helping a devastated and isolated town heal, hopefully on April 7 when the next home softball and baseball games are scheduled. But already it’s the people of towns like Oso and Darrington and Arlington who are showing the resilience of the human spirit. From the men in overalls and mud-soaked rain boots unwinding with tallboys of Rainer and Busch Light at the Red Top Tavern, to the kids who were supposed to be playing Friday afternoon, but instead refused to stop working, the people are the heart of a grieving community, and the reason it will come back even stronger.
“There’s just so much love in this town you can’t explain it,” said Taryn Tamez, a sophomore softball player. “This is a small town, everyone knows everyone here. Before, I didn’t think our town could be as close as it is, but once this happened… It touches my heart because it makes me feel like everyone can count on everyone any time, anywhere.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.