A Friday night to remember | TheUnion.com

A Friday night to remember

I never really took high school football seriously after graduating high school. I mean, 24 years ago, when I was in high school, it was a big deal because those were bonding moments with my classmates. After I graduated from Cordova High School in 1986, I guess I just stopped caring about high school football.

That all changed last Friday night when I was able to witness a game that I will not soon forget, between your hometown Bear River High School varsity football team and River Valley high school in Yuba City, where I now currently live.

I was invited to go to the game by my best friend since the fifth-grade, James Toft of Auburn. His son, Josh Toft, plays on the varsity squad for Bear River. My friend James had called me earlier in the week to inform me of the tragedy that occurred to Bear River High School involving a young man named Justin Butler. Justin died a very tragic death apparently from playing a deadly “game” that many teens play in our country. I don’t live in your community and I never met Justin, or his family, but I felt a sense that I had to learn more about this young man.

I wasn’t planning on going to the game because I had earlier events to attend to in the evening, but I wanted to give moral support to my friend and his family.

The evening couldn’t have been better for a football game. The moon was full that night. The band was playing loud, and the cheers from the Bear River side were quite indulging. It was quite obvious when I arrived that Justin was a well liked young man from all the “Justin # 8” signs, T-shirts, sharpie tattoos and buttons.

Unfortunately, I was not able to make the first half of the game. I arrived at half time and the score was tied 7 to 7. I was first taken aback by the size of the crowd on the visiting side of Bear River. That particular evening Bear River had a larger crowd than home crowd River Valley and your town is over an hour away!

The chants of the cheerleaders also caught my attention. I could hear the repetition of “Justin … you were the best!” over and over again. I immediately felt the closeness of the crowd when two players walked out of the locker room with the team behind them while holding Justin Butler’s No. 8 jersey. The cheers were loud.

I think what amazed me the most that evening was to see Justin’s parents in the bleachers cheering for their son’s team. I am a father of two loving children and I cannot even imagine how I would feel if I could no longer be able to tell them “I love you” or give them a hug. For this couple to be in the stands showed me they had felt the love given to them by the crowd, Justin’s teammates, and the rest of the Bear River families.

The third quarter finally started and even though River Valley may have scored first and in the first few minutes of the first quarter the young men on Bear River did not give up. I am a veteran of the military and I always live by the motto “Adapt and Overcome.” It was quite evident that the young men on Bear River did adapt and overcome despite the tragedy that occurred to their team just days before the game that Friday night. My hat goes off to these players and coaches.

I was almost certain that the game would be postponed for a makeup date, due to the circumstances. However, they persevered and fought through their emotions and wanted to play. They wanted to play the game. They wanted to play for Justin Butler. And play they did that Friday evening.

The defense played tough and did not let River Valley score again. Bear River scored the winning touchdown with minutes left in the game and the defense held River Valley off to win the game 14 to 7. My friend James invited me onto the field to celebrate with his son and his team. It was a very moving experience for me. The players’ eyes were filled with tears and it was quite obvious they played with heart.

Thank you, Bear River football, for an evening I will never forget.

Alan T. Cruz lives in Yuba City.

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