CALUMET TWP. -- If you did not have a tear in your eye, you don’t have a soul.
Friday night’s Whiting at Calumet football game was not about what the scoreboard said. One Warriors assistant coach shouted to the teenagers on the sidelines, “This isn’t about the score of the game. It’s about playing hard and sticking together like a family.”
A few minutes later the scoreboard stopped working and the rest of the Greater South Shore Conference was timed by the officials.
The 36-0 win by the Warriors, the first since 2009 over the Oilers, mattered. But not nearly as much as remembering the life and spirit of Calumet freshman Curtis Walton Jr., who died on Thursday.
The images and snapshots of the eve were melancholy. But also extremely inspiring.
Our flag flew at half-staff in the southwest corner of the stadium, a strange and rare moment under the lights of Friday night.
Calumet freshman Andrew Marcum was crying uncontrollably just after the kickoff. That’s when senior Tyler Austin noticed and walked over and put his arm around the youngster and said, “You’re going to be all right.”
Both had No. 19 decals on the back of their helmets, like every player in the game. The 1-9 was the jersey number that Walton Jr. wore. The one part of the scoreboard that did work all night was a computerized image of 1-9 with an image of the talented athlete who has passed to soon.
Calumet’s volleyball team walked around and collected donations for the Walton family and the large crowd supporting this Warriors’ program, which is now 3-1 for the second year in a row under coach Rick Good They collected over $2,000 to help the family in this stressful and God-awful time.
Curtis’ sister, Micaiah, wore a black No. 19 jersey and went out to midfield for the coin toss.
Calumet’s middle school team was introduced at halftime and Curtis’ younger brother, Joshua, was the last Warrior announced. The entire team huddled around the kid, also wearing 19, and did a group hug that lasted several minutes.
If this moment didn’t move you, you have a heart of stone.
Calumet dominated the play on the field, proof that Good and his staff are doing a remarkable job in this rebuild. Junior quarterback Mark Flores ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more. His teammates are bigger and stronger than the decades before. The speed and tenacity these kids played with was impressive.
This program has a chance to run the table in the regular season.
“This week has been tough, real tough,” Good said. “Football is supposed to be our outlet for the tough things that happen in our lives. Our community suffered a great loss this week. I think playing this game allowed our kids to focus on something else.
“On this night football was our escape.”
The team went into the swimming pool after Wednesday’s practice to cool off. Walton Jr. was found unresponsive under the waves. He was pronounced dead at the University of Chicago on Thursday.
“Curtis was a great athlete, a great kid,” Flores said. “We believe he would have wanted us to play this game for him. We did. He was up in heaven looking down on us. I hope we made him proud.”
“He was a wonderful person,” sophomore Scott Flores said. “He was not just a friend, but a brother.”
His friends and teammates spoke about Walton Jr.’s personality. He was competitive, talented, but also fun. On the basketball court he would tell people they couldn’t stop him. But if you hit a shot on him, he would smile.
“He had the greatest smile I’ve ever seen,” freshman David Flores said. “He was always smiling.”
It’s hard to put things like this in perspective. It is. A child with so much before him shouldn’t be taken. It’s not fair. Parents shouldn’t bury their children. All of this is true.
But the second chapter of this sad story is how a community came together in a way few have seen. The love for this young man was expressed by the thousands at the game. I hope that this will give this family some wings to fly.
I ask that everyone in the Region say a prayer for the Waltons and the Calumet community. Then, do it again.
“He’s the only star in the sky, he’s our star,” David Flores said, while pointing to the sky. And he was right. There was only one star peeking through the cloudy night. Twinkling, while looking down.