Just a little over a month ago, KIPP Sunnyside High School head football coach Troy Howard and his Senators opened their 2016 season against the Shadow Creek High School Sharks.
Although Sunnyside was shutout 41-0 in the contest, the individual performance of Shadow Creek junior right tackle Chase Lightfoot made a strong impression.
“We couldn’t stop him,” Coach Howard recalled, “and I was on my kids’ tails all night about stopping #65. Would somebody just block him!”
Tragically, Lightfoot passed away in the early morning hours of September 10 after suffering health-related complications and collapsing during the second half of Shadow Creek’s game at St. Mary’s Hall in San Antonio.
The unexpected passing hit home for the KIPP Team & Family as Sunnyside senior Dailen Nash had collapsed and stopped breathing in the Senators season-opening game versus Shadow Creek just weeks before.
“When (Dailen) went down, #65 was the kid that hit him,” Coach Howard said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
Last Saturday, Shadow Creek returned home for the first time since Lightfoot’s passing. Shark supporters were out in full force and several wore memorial t-shirts that read “Sharks Football” on the front and “Lightfoot 65” on the back. Two memorial banners also hung in the stadium and a moment of silence was held pregame.
After hearing the news of Lightfoot’s death, KIPP Houston Athletic Director Jeff Feller began working with Shadow Creek staff to find a way for KIPP to honor him.
“The Shadow Creek trainers were essential in helping save the life of one of our Sunnyside players,” Jeff said in reference to Dailen’s incident. “So when the opportunity came to support their family, the Shadow Creek community, that’s something we definitely wanted to do.”
Out of respect, Jeff asked the Shadow Creek staff if they were okay with KIPP’s high school teams attending the Sharks next home game to show their support.
“I think they were taken aback — in a good way,” Jeff said of Shadow Creek’s reaction to the proposed idea. “They definitely appreciated it.”
Coach Howard, KIPP Generations head coach Dennis McCalpin, and KIPP Houston High School head coach Rodney Smith, were immediately on board with the idea.
“It touched my young men,” Coach Smith said. “For us to come out and support this, we’re showing the family that we’re concerned, understand their sorrow, and we love their kid.”
Coach Mac stressed that whenever unimaginable tragedies occur togetherness is what’s most important.
“I hope that everybody understands that sports it’s a community,” McCalpin said. “It’s a community and a Team & Family. We all have to stick together. Whether it’s HISD, KIPP, Shadow Creek, Alvin ISD or whatever, we all have to stick together.”
With each passing day, Shadow Creek continues to attempt to move forward and adjust to life without #65. After opening their season 3-0, the Sharks were finally dealt their first loss of the season against Midland Christian on Saturday.
“Mentally, it has to be very tremendous on those kids to play with a young man like that, accept that loss, and now be asked to continue forward and finish their season,” Coach Smith said.
Coach Mac added, “We can’t really put ourselves in their shoes, but we can say any loss whether it’s in football or whatever, it’s tragic and it’s painful, and it’s a healing process that takes place from it.”
That healing process is in its early stages.
“Tomorrow is not promised,” Coach Howard said. “You get out and give everything you got in life and in football and hope good things happen for you. Like I tell my kids, everybody is not going to be great football players, but they can be great citizens. When this is over, you’ve got to be able to stand on your own two feet, take something from the game and apply it to life.”