I’m sure there are more, but after a few minutes of pondering the past, I came up with three instances over the past 15 years of being around youth sports in the Rail City where bad news and tragedies hit me pretty hard. Given that, I’m sure the life-changing news hit the affected families much harder than it hit me.
•In 1997, basketball was everything to Shannon O’Hair. The Reed High senior was an all-league and all-state selection as a junior in leading the Raiders to a Northern 4A championship and state semifinal berth.
She played on the AAU tournament circuit throughout the spring and summer of 1997, eventually earning a scholarship offer from Nevada, which she quickly accepted.
She signed her official letter of intent in November, but she began experiencing soreness and pain in her knee. She got it checked out and one game into her senior season, her basketball career was done. Doctors told her she should never play basketball again because the wear and tear on her knee might jeopardize her long-term ability to walk.
It was sad to see. O’Hair was far from the most athletic prep player you’d see but she was so fundamentally sound, had great footwork in the post and could finish any shot from anywhere around the hoop. The kid had worked so hard to achieve her goal of earning a D-1 basketball scholarship and it was being stripped from her for no apparent reason.
I remember thinking “Why did this happen to such a great kid?” O’Hair did her best to overcome the adversity. She still got a college degree from Nevada. She is now a teacher at Depoali Middle School, coaches middle school basketball and is a proud mother and wife.
She looks back on it now and at 31 understands that was a smaller obstacle than it seemed like it would be at 17. But at the time, it felt like her world was falling apart.
“I thought that’s all I was, a basketball player,” O’Hair, now Shannon Hartley, said. “It’s like my identity was gone. Looking back it seems so silly to be consumed by that but at 17 that’s what was important to me … my mom and dad, and friends, were amazing. I got through it.”
•There are not many sadder stories than that of the Welch sisters. Both had personalities bigger than the Truckee Meadows, vibrant teenagers with big goals. In the fall of 2004, Jessica Welch was gearing up for her senior basketball season at Spanish Springs. The talented point guard was one of the most competitive prep athletes I’d ever seen. She had begun to receive some scholarship interest from a few schools, but was the most excited about a potential offer from Colgate, an elite academic school on the East Coast.
Cassie Welch was a born leader. She was smart and had charisma. She could have been a politician or a stand-up comedian. She was a junior class officer and set to be the SSHS girls basketball team’s manager after earlier in the year getting back surgery, which ended her basketball playing days.
The two girls died in a car wreck on Pyramid Highway on their way to school on Monday, Nov. 15, 2004. It was the second day of tryouts for the basketball team that season.
I’ve had administrators, teachers and coaches at Spanish Springs tell me that’s the most emotional event that’s ever happened at the 11th-year school and that the loss of those two girls’ lives was immeasurable on their friends and their teammates.
What makes the deaths of Jessica and Cassie a sadder story is how it had to affect, and surely still does, their father, Clint, and brother, Clint Jr. Diane Welch, the mother of Jessica, Cassie and Clint, died prematurely from unsafe medication while the girls were in middle school. So in a span of four years, Clint and Clint Jr. lost their wife/mother and daughters/sisters.
I cannot imagine the heartache. I still think about that family and ask “Why did this happen?” A case with the basketball jerseys of Jessica and Cassie Welch still hangs in the SSHS gymnasium in memoriam of the two talented, personable girls.
•Spanish Springs currently has a pair of talented athletic sisters who are fighting through a tough time of their own. Morgan and Myrissa Prince are both multi-sport athletes for the Cougars and the kind of girls I’d want my daughter to grow up to be: smart, engaging, hard-working, athletic, loyal and funny to name a few attributes.
They are that way in large part because of the excellent parenting of their father and mother Alan and Wendy. But the Prince family’s time with Alan was cut short when he passed away two weeks after suffering from a brain aneurysm.
I actually coached both Morgan and Myrissa in basketball at Shaw Middle School for two years apiece and knew Alan quite well. He was a hard-working employee at Costco, a sports fan, and more importantly, great husband and father.
He was so proud of his kids and always had a light in his eye and smile on his face when talking about them.
I am a huge Oregon Ducks fan and whenever Alan got a chance to give me a hard time about wearing my UO gear, he’d do so. He was a die-hard Nebraska Cornhuskers fan so I’d return the favor when I got a chance.
Alan Prince was a wonderful provider for his family. With two kids in addition to Morgan and Myrissa — Austin and Kami — money had to be a limited resource, but I never saw his kids go without or miss out on opportunity near or far. Alan was always there to ensure his kids didn’t miss out.
I have little doubt it will be tough now that he’s not. But I also know the Prince family will find light at the end of the tunnel because Alan gave them the strength to do so when he was here and will still find a way to lead them while he’s gone.
•We’ve all been touched by death in our lives. It hurts some of us more than others. It’s the unexpected loss of life to those close to us that hurts the most.
It affects every walk of life; those who dedicate themselves in politics, those who are entrenched in the arts and those like me, who are engulfed in youth sports.
I don’t have any magic words about healing the pain and scars after a tough loss hits us hard. But the common theme in emotionally tragic scenarios is that those who love us and care about us, help us heal. I saw many of Shannon O’Hair’s friends and family band together to help her overcome a time in her life, when she thought everything she wanted had slipped away. I saw the same when Clint Welch and Clint Welch Jr. did lose nearly everything important in their world. And I’ve seen the outpouring of support for Morgan and Myrissa Prince, and the rest of their family, through this trying time of Alan’s passing.
Death hurts. It inflicts emotional pain that takes time to heal. Our friends and family help us heal. I don’t have any extra special insight here. Just know life will stop us in our tracks again someday in the future. So be the best friend and family member you can be. Someone will need you to be.
Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune’s sports editor. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org