HILLARY SMITH: Trojans lean on each other

2014-01-19T21:00:00Z HILLARY SMITH: Trojans lean on each otherHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
January 19, 2014 9:00 pm  • 

Before the Highland and Hobart girls basketball game started on Jan. 10, warm-up was halted and the two teams were ushered off the court.

The Trojans were taken into a hallway while an emergency response team worked to revive Tal Ryzewski, who had collapsed. Ryzewski is the father of a Highland player and AAU coach to some of the other athletes.

There was a discussion about postponing the game. The girls were given time to cry if needed.

The day after Highland beat Hobart, the team learned Ryzewski had died. That's when the team came together to cry again.

That's also when they started thinking.

They wanted to do something to remember the efforts of Ryzewski and support their teammate, Hannah Ryzewski. As the Trojans sat in one house to decide how best to help continue this season, what made the discussion easier is that this isn't the first time any of these players had been through a loss like this at such a young age.

Kara Randall lost her father when she was 9. Her softball team made visors with his name on it.

That's what prompted Randall to help think of the idea to make arm bands the team will wear for the rest of the season.

Kelsie Hirchak lost her mother two years ago.

There's nothing in the coaching manual to prepare a team for this kind of heartbreak in the middle of a breakout season.

Highland coach Tracie Mezera said she's taking her cue from the softball team that helped Hirchak.

"The team has been relying on Kelsie as far as timing. We don't want to overwhelm anyone with attention, so we're making sure we're coordinating stuff within the team and with Kelsie's help," Mezera said. "(Softball) Coach (Erin) Zeller gave us some ideas and advice. It's not something many of us have ever gone through before."

Adult children are prepared to lose their parents. Teenagers never are, especially when a loss comes so suddenly.

While the young players provide whatever support they know how, they also are continuing plans for Hannah as the season winds down.

"We can't tell you what it is yet, we don't want Hannah to know," Randall said.

On a team that has won so much this season, the loss came as a surprise to so many.

As a comforting shoulder who has also felt the loss of a parent, Randall leaves some advice to pass on to her teammate.

"It's going to be OK," the senior said. "It seems surreal right now. It hurts, but you're not going through this alone."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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