In Butler’s honor: Bear River students join football team in memory of their friend
In all the years Terry Logue had been on the sidelines, Bear River’s veteran football coach had never allowed athletes to join the team midway through the season.
But 2010 has been anything but ordinary for Logue, his staff, his players and all of the Bear River High School community.
As the accidental death of 16-year-old wide receiver Justin Butler shook the Lake of the Pines community to its core in late September, Logue and co-head coach Scott Savoie strove to keep their kids together through an extremely tough time.
And as the team rallied together, a few familiar faces sought to return to their former football family.
Marty Andrade, Johnny Cassar, Trevor McGhee and Brandon Wooner were all teammates with Butler on Bear River’s 2009 Junior Varsity team that went 10-0 while claiming the Pioneer Valley League championship.
Although they had decided not to don the shoulder pads for the 2010 season, all four juniors were inspired to join the team in their fallen friend’s honor.
“Six of (Butler’s) buddies said they wanted to come out for football as a tribute,” Logue said during Butler’s memorial service at Bear River’s J. David Ramsey Stadium.
Logue and Savoie talked it over with the team and they agreed to let the kids join the team.
“They’re going to help us,” Logue said at the time. “It’s just amazing. They’re giving up their cell phones for a chance to have me yell at them (in practice.)”
The four newcomers to the 2010 squad were joined by two other players who had come out for the team in August, but had since quit the club, only to return upon Butler’s death.
“How could you say ‘no’ to something like that?” Logue said. “There’s no way you can, because their intention was to honor their friend when he died, because he loved the game so much.
“In 35 years of coaching, I’ve never had anything like that happen.”
Cassar, McGhee and Wooner weren’t exactly going home and sitting on the couch after school, while the Bruins hit the practice field each day. The three were all preparing for the upcoming basketball season when Butler died.
“We were all good friends with Justin,” Wooner said. “We were over at the Bothelio’s house, where we hung out and everyone just started talking about it. We just got convinced that it’s what Justin would have wanted, anything to make the season better for everyone.”
The players had to get 10 practices under their belt before they were eligible to play, meaning they weren’t in uniform – but were on the sideline – for the emotional 14-7 win at River Valley dedicated in Butler’s memory. With a week off, the week of Butler’s memorial service, the returning Bruins were first eligible to play in the PVL opener at Placer on Oct. 8.
“I just regretted not being a part of the team this year,” McGhee said. “I regretted not being able to spend that time with (Butler). We decided to approach the whole team and we told them that we were 100 percent dedicated to the team.”
Cassar, McGhee and Wooner all three made an immediate impact, seeing substantial action in the 34-13 loss to Placer. Running backs Cassar, who had two carries for 29 yards, and McGhee, who had a 10-yard run, were joined on the offense by Wooner, who added two catches at tight end for 24 yards.
Through three games with the team, Cassar has rushed for 61 yards on seven carries, while also playing defensive back. McGhee had two carries for 20 yards and one catch for 20 yards, along with four tackles and substantial special teams play.
Wooner stepped in at tight end, a position where the Bruins were already thin with an injury to Chris Talbot, and has provided quarterback James Harris with another target. In three games, the junior has nine catches for a 155 yards and a touchdown.
“I truly believe that was their motive, to play for Justin,” Savoie said. “And they’ve lived up to their end of the bargain. There were conditions with this, that they were going to stick with it and finish the year, that they were not going to miss a day, they’d be at every practice and every meeting, even if they didn’t get a chance to play.
“And they’ve lived up to that.”
Logue said he never expected their return to be a distraction, but he said having those Bruins back has helped in more ways than just having them back and making plays on the field.
“It’s been a blessing,” Logue said. “It’s helped not only with football, but it’s also helped the healing process. And the other thing is they’re going to tremendously help us next year, too.”
Now that they’re back in the hunt for a league championship, with two games remaining in the regular season, there’s no question for Cassar about the goal from this point forward.
“To win league,” Cassar said. “We came out here to finish what Justin started.”
Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 477-4240.
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