High School Sports

News of teammate’s improvement a spark for Olathe East

Olathe East students and parents sell t-shirts with the words “Pray for James” before the start of SM South at Olathe East football game on Friday night at the College Boulevard Activity Center. Proceeds from the t-shirts will go to the James McGinnis Fund.
Olathe East students and parents sell t-shirts with the words “Pray for James” before the start of SM South at Olathe East football game on Friday night at the College Boulevard Activity Center. Proceeds from the t-shirts will go to the James McGinnis Fund. The Kansas City Star

Olathe East’s football team capped an emotional week with a victory over Shawnee Mission South, sparked by the news on Friday that senior linebacker James McGinnis — who collapsed at last week’s game and has been hospitalized since undergoing brain surgery — was breathing on his own.

Olathe East football fans showed up at Friday’s game with signs and chanted McGinnis’ name after touchdowns in a 14-6 victory at the College Boulevard Activity Center. The Hawks’ defense intercepted five SM South passes, with McGinnis’ father, Patrick, watching from the Hawks’ sideline.

A McGinnis family statement on Friday, which was accompanied by a picture of McGinnis giving a thumbs up from his hospital bed, read: “For the past couple of days, we’ve continued to see improvement in James’ condition. Today marked a “FIRST DOWN” as James was able to breathe on his own for the first time since last Friday night. We think it’s remarkable, given that tonight is FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS with his beloved football team, Olathe East. The attached picture shows James giving us a “thumbs up” this morning, something he was not able to do with his teammates last Friday night as he was taken off the football field. We know that we have a long road ahead and appreciate all the love, prayers and deep comfort for our family. As we head into the weekend, we ask that you #PrayForJames.”

Support for McGinnis was everywhere on Friday night. Cars in the parking lot featured “#PrayForJames” on windshields, a phrase that has become popular on Twitter since he underwent emergency surgery last week to stop bleeding and reduce swelling around his brain.

As fans entered the stadium, the Olathe East Football Booster Club was selling t-shirts with No. 9 and the same slogan printed on the front with a picture of McGinnis. The phrase “Olathe Family” was featured on the back of the shirt. The Hawks’ players also wore decals with No. 9 on their helmets.

“We had experience dealing with something similar last year, so we told our kids it’s something you can’t have in the front of your mind — but you hope and pray,” Shawnee Mission South coach Ryan Lonergan said. “I think our kids went out and played just as hard for the young man as their kids did.”

Prior to Friday’s game, Erin Dugan, assistant superintendent of the Olathe School District, said the McGinnis family and the Olathe East football team would not comment on McGinnis’ status or the football game. But she said she was encouraged by the love and support shown by the community.

Dugan said that the family had received messages and cards from several area schools. At the Olathe North vs. Olathe South football game on Friday night, buckets were passed around for donations to help with medical costs.

“Our students have been encouraged and positive sending that energy and thoughts and prayers to James and his family since a week ago, and they do that a variety of ways,” Dugan said. “I think the family feels that and, as a district, I think we are also comforted by what our students are doing.”

An early two-yard touchdown run by SM South quarterback Matt Hollingsworth gave SM South a 6-0 lead. Olathe East’s Jalen Branson answered with a 7-yard touchdown run and, following an extra point by Chris Diddle, chants of “Play for James” rang out from the Olathe East student section.

Those chants roared again one more time before the first half ended, as Branson ran it in from the 1-yard line with 16.7 seconds remaining on the clock. The victory improved Olathe East to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the Sunflower League.

Donations for the McGinnis family are being directed to the James McGinnis Fund at Valley View Bank, 13379 S. Blackbob Road, Olathe, KS 66062. The bank’s phone number is (913) 381-3311.

To reach Kathleen Gier, call 816-234-4875 or send email to kgier@kcstar.com.

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