Shawnee Mission West spent the previous eight days trying to answer questions that, in a perfect world, should never have to be asked.
By TODD ENGLE
Special to The Star
The Vikings had to cope with the nightmare of the death of their friend and teammate Andre Maloney, who died of a stroke Oct. 4.
And Friday’s result, an 18-10 Olathe Northwest victory at Shawnee Mission South District Stadium, wasn’t what the Vikings wanted.
Still, the ability to get lost in the rhythm of football, if only for a few hours, was a relief.
Tributes to Maloney, big and small, were everywhere.
SM West captains carried Maloney’s jersey to midfield for the opening coin toss. It was hung facing the home stands for the remainder of the game.
Olathe Northwest, 3-3, started the game by intentionally kicking the ball out of bounds. SM West took the field in a 10-player formation. There was a brief tribute to Maloney, followed by a moment of silence, and the game started after the Vikings called a timeout.
“Andre’s the kind of kid who did a lot of stuff. You don’t always like him playing against you, but there’s a lot of respect from other players and coaches,” SM West coach Tim Callaghan said.
The Olathe Northwest coaching staff wore T-shirts with “One League, One Family” on the front and Maloney’s name and number 29 on the back. Both teams and the officiating crew wore No. 29 decals on their respective headgear.
T-shirts bearing the acronym MiB (Make it Big), one of Maloney’s favorite slogans, were sold outside the stadium with all proceeds benefiting the Andre Maloney Memorial Fund.
In short, it was a microcosm of the support the SM West community had received during the week.
“Kansas, Missouri. The entire metro area has been awesome. I can’t even begin to state where it’s all come from, but just the metro area itself,” Callaghan said. “Not just the West community, but everywhere. Olathe, Leavenworth, Lawrence, everybody’s been great.”
Although, the Vikings, 3-3, weren’t able to get the victory they wanted to honor their fallen teammate, there were bright spots. Isaiah Macklin intercepted a Ravens’ pass in the second quarter. Justin Hobbs hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback A.J. Verdini on the next play, converting the turnover into a touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
The Ravens took the lead for good, as it turned out, when Cole Dahlquist threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Chase Gitlin with 24 seconds left in the first half.
SM West had two chances in the fourth quarter to get the storybook ending it was looking for. But a potential 99-yard scoring drive was stopped on fourth down 25 yards short of the end zone.
The Vikings got the ball back with 2:15 to play, but Adam Harter sealed Olathe Northwest’s victory with an interception on the next play.
It was against the backdrop of disappointment and grief that Callaghan spoke to his team after the game.
“Knowing that they wanted to win this game, that’s tough. You can’t go against a Sunflower League team with a couple days practice and really get it done,” Callaghan said. “I kept trying to reiterate to them that effort is what I want and to play hard. That was probably the toughest thing. I know what they wanted to do, and there’s a lot of upset guys here. I know they wanted to win it for him, and that’s just tough to do in this league without preparing.”
The Vikings will carry the memory of their friend and teammate with them for the rest of the season, and the rest of their lives. And while the struggle to cope with grief may not get easier with time, there is a return to a set schedule.
SM West will go to class and prepare as it always has. The rhythm of football will return, and, with any luck, a modicum of understanding and peace will come with it.
“Death touches everybody in different ways. Everybody thinks about their own personal life if you lose a family member. That’s tough to get over. We’re asking a lot of these kids to get over it in a week or two weeks. I have faith,” Callaghan said. “I don’t think I saw any effort problems out here tonight. That’s a good thing. We’ve just got to get better and get their minds back around it, and we’ll be OK.”