Photo by Jeff Vorva
Brother Rice players anxiously wait during a 15-minute span in which their teammate, Brian Olsen, was being tended to by medical personnel.
For close to three hours Saturday, Brother Rice's stadium was jumping and noisy.
There were loud cheers from the thousands in attendance at Tom Mitchell Field at Gary Little Stadium for great plays during this Class 8A opening-round playoff game. There were boos for the referees after what were perceived as not-so-great calls.
The Brother Rice student section was in full voice, heckling opposing Fremd players. At one point, some heckled their own basketball coach, Bobby Frasor who was standing on the sideline. They wanted him to take off his shirt and display his “North Carolina physique.” Frasor is one of the top hoops players to come out of the school and he attended and played for the University of North Carolina.
Music? The band was loud. And some of the rock and techno music from the PA system was even louder.
The game was full of twists, turns and touchdowns so both Rice and Fremd fans had plenty to yell about.
With Rice down 45-42 and Fremd with the ball in the closing minutes, Vikings running back Joe Schneider ran hard for a first down with 1 minute, 17 seconds left and crashed into a host of Crusaders including linebacker Brian Olsen.
Both players ended up on the ground from the impact and were not getting up.
By the time people realized what was happening, the stadium fell silent.
That was eerie.
Trainers, coaches, medical personnel and family members raced out and gathered around the two players. Someone motioned for a stretcher right away.
What was even eerier was that it was cloudy and in the background bells could be heard from a church in the southwest distance.
Shivers, meet spine. Spine, meet shivers.
Add to that, the violent collision took place a few feet from the Fremd sideline, where Vikings assistant coach Brock Shiffer sat in a wheelchair, which was a result of a car accident 14 years ago.
Schneider was able to stand and walk back to his sidelines and the silence was broken for a few seconds by Fremd fans applauding.
There is more good news. After 15 minutes of angst among fans, Olsen was placed on a stretcher and gave thumbs up to the crowd as he was wheeled off the field. Brother Rice coach Brian Badke said Olsen was knocked out and recovered and was talking and was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons. Olsen was released from the hospital that night.
During the time he was still on the field, my own thoughts strayed to one of the worst assignments I ever had in my career in which a girls basketball coach collapsed a few feet in front of me and subsequently died in the first quarter of a big game for a conference championship. I had just talked to him the night before.
I never want to cover something like that again and, like the thousands of people at Rice on Saturday, prayed something like that wasn’t happening.
Thankfully, it wasn’t.
The game resumed but it wasn’t the same. Fremd was able to run the clock out to record the upset and Fremd’s celebration was dampened. Sure, a few players jumped up and down but it wasn’t a full-tilt crazyfest.
Rice players were crying for more than just a lost game.
Even the band’s rendition of “Hey! Baby’’ was slow and somber after the game.
This weekend had plenty of highs and lows all over the state in sports such as football, cross country, swimming and soccer. Emotions have been running high in Illinois.
But it’s doubtful the wide range of emotions were felt like they were at Brother Rice’s stadium.