Stoughton coach Bill Horan describes his team as "very strong" during a difficult time.
The sun was shining and there was a slight breeze in the air. The competition was exciting with several events being determined by the slightest of margins. Teams were melding together, achieving success in many different forms.
Some might say it was a perfect day for track & field.
For the young athletes of the Stoughton High track team, that's exactly what they needed at Saturday's Eastern Massachusetts Division 3 Outdoor Championships. Being among each other and their rivals at North Reading's Arthur J. Kenney Athletic Field was all part of the healing process.
Just a week earlier, these teenagers were reminded in an unthinkable way at just how precious life can be here on earth, at an age when death and dying is not something that is often thought about.
The Stoughton community is mourning the loss of four young men, four promising athletes from the town's high school, who died in a devasting crash in East Bridgewater on May 19. Among those who lost their lives were Eryck Sarblah, Chris Desir, Nick Joyce and David Bell. The driver of the vehicle is in critical condition at the hospital.
Both Joyce and Bell were valued members of the boys' track team.
In a sad twist of fate, Stoughton head coach Bill Horan was at Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton at the time when the teens were transported to the hospital following the accident. He was told the devasting news about his athletes by one of the friends of the victims.
"I was actually there for an appointment." he said. "I didn't really believe it. I didn't want to believe it. I still don't think I want to believe it. I thought about all the people, starting with the parents that are going to be so deeply impacted by this. I just don't think I could really understand or believe it."
The flag was at half-mast at Saturday's track meet, honoring the Stoughton athletes killed on May 19.
The families, the students and all those affected by this tragedy have been coming together and comforting each other through this painful period. There were several vigils last week, including a moving ceremony at St. James Church in Stoughton where Father Joseph Mazzone estimated about 500 attended. ""We gathered here tonight as a grieving family," he told the media outside the church. "Stoughton is many beautiful things and one of the things that it is, is a family. Right now, this family is grieving the loss of four of its sons and one of its sons in the hospital."
Horan described his team as "very strong" during this difficult time.
"There is no formula for dealing with this," he said. "They are all allowing each other to help. Everybody is understanding that they need help. They take comfort in helping other people, the community, their teammates. Everybody has been together; not dealing with it individually but helping each other through this process."
This past Saturday, Horan talked about the two athletes he lost in the crash, both of who qualified for the Division 3 meet. Bell was a high jumper with a best of 5-10. He also was a sub 24-second 200-meter runner, who won the Warrior Invitational back on April 19. Joyce specialized in the sprint events and captured the 100m dash at the Greater New Bedford Sunset Invitational at the beginning of the month.
"Nick Joyce, he was just a sound leader. Everybody followed him because he was just smooth. Everything he did, the way he warmed up, the way he ran, he just took himself very seriously," Horan said. "David Bell also was extremely talented. He just brought a lot of life to competing and the sport. He was very exciting, brought a lot of light moments. They were both unique...They are definitely going to be remembered."
The morning after the crash, Stoughton was scheduled to compete in the Hockomock League Championships. Horan felt words didn't need to be said to his team. Realizing their emotions, he gave them the decision to either go to the league meet or stay home.
"Every single person decided to come," he said. "We went. It was extremely difficult. They did it because they were strong and have each other."
In some ways, the one common thing these Stoughton athletes shared with their late teammates has been their solace, competing together among their peers at a track meet.
High above the clouds, it's what Horan feels Joyce and Bell would have wanted.
"Realizing that we're are in our routine, and doing it, that's what they would want us to do. I really believe that," he said. "I think it's fair to say it is part of the healing process."
A Stoughton athlete wears a shirt with ribbons symbolizing the four teens that lost their lives.