SNOHOMISH – Brett Karch’s fourth surgery on his left leg that was nearly blown off by a malfunctioning ceremonial cannon is near.
At 16, the Snohomish High School student already has shown more courage since the accident than anyone his age should. By rights, Karch should be breezing through classes, stuffing burgers and fries down his neck with his buddies and winking at the breathtaking blonde he wants to meet at the next school dance.
Instead, Karch has to worry about the titanium rod that runs from his knee to his ankle, which replaces a shin bone that was blown to pieces. He has to worry about skin grafts and the February surgery, in which surgeons plan to graft bone from his hip into his leg to help it heal.
The ignition of the cannon is a tradition in football-mad Snohomish. For more than 30 years, a blast signaled the start of home games and a touchdown for the Panthers.
On that Oct. 6 night, Karch pulled the trigger, but something went wrong. No one knows what. Friday’s story in The Herald written by Melissa Slager mentioned safety precautions were taken, but still, the cannon blew apart and sent Karch into rehabilitation pain he’d never dreamed about.
He also never dreamed about the cowardly intimidation he would receive from a few misguided cretins more concerned with a silly tradition than a human life.
When I read about the threatening phone calls and cards Karch received while still in his hospital bed, I thought … well … I don’t know what I thought. The threats came from both adults and students who blamed Karch for the mishap. They said he deserved his injuries. They warned him of further physical harm if he didn’t keep the incident quiet.
Flash forward 10 years, when the searing pain of Karch’s injuries have long subsided. He will have started a long, successful career doing whatever he chooses, whether he defends our country or finances the military from his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Maybe he will have married the breathtaking blonde and they’ll have started a family of breathtaking kids.
Whatever Karch’s future, he will have used this incident as a learning tool. He will know that most people are honorable, while others wouldn’t honor their own mothers. He will have known the value of hard work, taught through miles of rehabilitative walking.
He will be happy. People will admire and respect him, not from his fight through these dark days, but from the person he will have become.
That won’t be the case with those who choose to harass.
They have little future because they’ve anchored their souls in the past.
The highlight – the only one they have – is of wearing red, of running a trap that goes for 23 yards and of hearing the cannon blast yet again.
It begins at 15 and ends at 18. That’s all the cowards have.
Yes, they point to their time within the extraordinary legacy of coach Dick Armstrong as the best parts of their lives, but, well, their lives haven’t amounted to much since.
What they failed to get was that football under Armstrong meant more than the game on Friday night. It meant the importance of applying his teachings to a life lived long after the final game. It meant teamwork and discipline and sacrifice to reach the goal.
It meant a lifetime of caring for others in the same way as they cared for their teammates.
It meant finding happiness through that path.
For whatever reason, and it is no fault of Armstrong or any coach in any sport, those who choose to badger Karch and his family never learned. They choose to honor and protect the Snohomish football tradition by embarrassing the community through mindless, selfish threats.
If Armstrong were still alive and if he’d caught wind of their behavior, he’d have them running goal posts until Valentine’s Day.
The cowards don’t have the capacity to know that, of course. They just want back their precious cannon, the one representation they had left from their past, brief glory. And they want it more than they want a 16-year-old to fully recover from serious injuries.
How depraved is that?
Happily, Slager writes that Everett prosecutor Laura Van Slyck anticipates filing a charge against one adult. With any luck, more will be charged and convicted.
And maybe, just maybe, Karch will volunteer to come to their prison poetry readings.