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Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Untimely Deaths of High School Seniors Present Challenges and Opportunities for Classmates, Family and Friends

Untimely Deaths of High School Seniors Present Challenges and Opportunities for Classmates, Family and Friends

Paul Stanley is the Political Opinion Editor for The Christian Post. He is a former member of the Tennessee House of Representatives and State Senate and can be followed on Twitter @authorstanley.

It happens decades before it should. Sometime before a May graduation one or more members of a senior class could wake up one morning and never live to see another day. It makes no sense; these boys had their entire lives in front of them. None of us will ever understand such tragedy and we're not supposed to.

This past Sunday I awoke to the news that two young men from Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, TN lost their lives in a single car accident the prior evening. Colin Kilgore, a baseball player and teammate of my freshman son and Christophe Kesterson, a lacrosse player collided with a tree in the car they were in and died instantly. Both were accomplished student-athletes who had secured a spot at two great colleges and I'm sure felt as if they had the world in the palm of their hands. Yet it's times like this we realize it's not us but God who is in control.

Almost thirty-five years to the day I lost one of my best friends our senior year of high school. The news of the CBHS boys dug up a cadre of emotions for me. I would have never imagined the events of February 17, 1980 would come rushing back with such intensity yet all I could think about were the emotions that families, friends and loved ones of these boys would experience that dreadful morning and for years to come.

Early Sunday morning I received a text from a friend informing me of the CBHS accident. Details were few but it didn't matter. These boys were gone and nothing was going to bring them back. My first thought was how the families received the news. As a parent it's hard to imagine a phone call or visit from law enforcement officers in the wee hours of the morning telling you your child is not coming home. The very thought makes me sick to my stomach.

In my case I received a phone call from a buddy telling me the friend we left less than five hours earlier was gone. At first I thought it was a bad dream and hung up the phone. When it rang again seconds later I knew it was no dream but a visit from the angel of death. It was the first time a contemporary; someone that I knew so well had died. We were too young to die. Only grandparents and old neighbors were allowed to die. We were still in high school and graduation was in May. We just ordered invitations.

My son was spending the night with a friend but I was able to obtain some details from other parents and through social media. When I called one baseball mom asking if they knew anything she began to cry. "These could have been our boys Paul," she said sobbing over the phone. She was right. My son had ridden home from visiting friends with a sophomore classmate just hours before yet they were probably still sleeping. It wasn't fair to these other parents that their sons we're sleeping either.

I called my son, waking him up to inform him of the news. To my knowledge no one he had ever known around his age had passed away. He didn't know either of the boys very well because they were seniors and as everyone knows, seniors aren't going to have much to do with a lowly freshman, but nonetheless, they were teammates and students. They were CBHS "brothers." They didn't have to know each other well.

"Daddy, I just saw him in the locker room on Friday," commented my son.

An email from the coach said there would be a team meeting for both baseball and lacrosse players. It was for primarily for juniors and seniors – the boys who had spent the most time with their friends and knew them best – but everyone on the team was invited. I went and picked up my son and suggested he attend the meeting. At first he was hesitant. After all, he didn't know the boys that well. But they were his teammates and his "brothers" from school and I encouraged him to support those who were hurting most. I believe he realized it was the right decision to make. After the meeting I could tell the gathering made an impact on his soul.

Within an hour after finding out my friend was gone another friend picked me up about 6:00 a.m. that Sunday morning. My parents didn't want me to go but I insisted. We knew some of the sheriff's deputies and they told us the location where the damaged truck had been towed. I had sat in that very truck the day before and now it was barely recognizable. The area when the cab once stood was no more. No one could have survived that wreck.

There were no cell phones then so there would be no advance notice of our next stop. My friend had dated a junior girl and I had dated her younger sister. We spent lots of time at their house and fortunately for us their parents liked us, welcoming us into their home on many weekend nights. I'll never forget knocking on that door, waking everyone up and delivering such horrible news. It was awful. Nothing prepares you for the task and nothing should. I pray my children are never on either end of that knock.

When my son and I arrived at the school the parking lot was almost full. CBHS is an all boys' school but lots of teen girls from St. Agnes and other neighboring schools were there too. The baseball team met in a large conference room in the administrative building and it was already packed when we arrived. Baseball players and coaches occupied the chairs and lined the walls and parents and other classmates spilled out into the corridors.

There was a heavy weight of sadness in the room but the coaches and boys had already begun sharing stories of their friend and teammate. Almost all were funny; things he did and said in the locker rooms and on the field.

"Did you know Colin didn't like to take batting practice before games Coach?" one player confessed. "Said he always hit better when he didn't warm up but never wanted you to know."

"No, I never knew that," said the coach. "But I always had a feeling he was up to something whenever I turned my back." Everyone laughed.

Some may not have known why they should be laughing but their teammate produced a lot of fun moments that never needed to fade away. Certainly not today and hopefully they will grow fonder as Father time marches on. From what I heard from other parents, a similar situation occurred in the lacrosse team meeting.

My son was standing near the entrance of the room and didn't know it at the time, but his teammates Mom entered the room and stood near him. At the conclusion of the meeting it was announced that both teams would gather in the gym but before anyone moved the Colin's mom expressed her appreciation to everyone. I don't recall her words because all I could think about was how composed she was and how much gratitude and love she expressed for those in attendance. She was amazing. She would have to be for the next few days.

When both of the teams gathered in the gym the feeling was surreal. Girls were crying and hugging each other and many of the boys who may have never shown signs of emotion on the field were crying too. There was an interesting mixture of laughter and crying, of tears and smiles in the gym that knows only the sounds of athletic competition. Even the parents of both boys were mingling with other parents and friends. Prayers were said – both to the group and in small gatherings all over the room and the presence of God filled that gymnasium. God always finds a way to comfort us in our greatest time of need.

There are many great schools in our area but the main emphasis of Christian Brothers is the "brotherhood" created by their 150-year tradition. "Brothers for Life" is their motto. From your first day of class until your dying moment you are a CBHS "brother" and no one can ever take that away. This gathering was the perfect example of that motto and I know the boys who were gone would have done the same for any other "brother."

It still doesn't make sense and it's still not supposed to. In the thirty-five years since my friend was taken I still think back on why it happened to him and not me. Why I am blessed on a daily basis with two great kids and friends and family members who love and support me and why did my friend never live to see the same? Experiencing his death changed my life forever and I know it will change the lives of the families and friends of these two CBHS boys.

Everyone will say their final goodbyes in the next couple of days. Emotions will come and go and the next time a class meets, a practice starts or the first time they take the field for competition, their "brothers" will think of their friend and teammate who isn't standing beside them.

Let us remember in the chaos of this life that our time is precious and although we hear it on a routine basis, let's live life to it's fullest and take advantage of every breath God gives us.

I don't have to know Colin Kilgore and Christophe Kesterson or their parents to know they would want us to move forward with the same determination they espoused in the classroom and on the athletic field.

It's the least we can do for them and for my friend so let's do it well.

Paul Stanley is the Political Opinion Editor for The Christian Post. He served as a member of the Tennessee General Assembly in both the House of Representatives and the Senate from 2001-2009.

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