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Remembering Wyatt Cragan

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Many of my readers have asked me where I have been this summer. "What have you been doing? We miss your blogging and articles." In fact, I decided to take a two month respite from writing to focus my attention on the administrative end of the business with the intent to start my writing again after September 1st. Next week I will write more about our  foray into the iPhone app world, and the exciting changes that are in store for MomsTeam; but something has been weighing heavily on my mind all summer and now seems the appropriate time to publish my thoughts as many young people head back to school and start a new sports year.

Over the past eight or nine years, many of you across the country have heard me mention the names Brooke and Wyatt Cragan. Brooke (Wyatt's mother) and I got to know each other quite well years back while we spent hours watching our sons play soccer and lacrosse during middle school and their first year of high school. Two sports moms sharing stories, wisdom joys and sorrows. If you have heard me speak during one of my nationwide community talks or as a keynote speaker at any of the conventions I have been asked to attend, you have probably heard the special story I tell about Brooke and Wyatt. More about that story in a minute.

This past July 4th Wyatt died a tragic death after a freak fall in Florida. After his freshman year at the local high school, Wyatt attended Proctor Academy and then went on to St. Lawrence University. I doubt there are words that I write that will ever comfort his family in coming to grips with their loss. I hope this blog brings good memories to many.

Wyatt was one of those wonderful kids with a smile from ear to ear even in the worst of times. A gifted athlete who embodied all that, as a parent, we wanted our "sporty" children to be: fair, fun, a collaborator, a good sport, a hard worker, and unselfish. He was the kind of kid who had the ability to lift up the spirits of his teammates; a truly perfect teammate.

My best memories of Wyatt were from the spring he played freshman lacrosse with my son Spencer. They had the misfortune of having as their coach an extremely difficult, abusive and uneducated man who had no business being a high school lacrosse coach. The majority of the boys on the team had been playing together since they were in the fifth grade. They were destined to be one of the strongest teams in the state had they stayed together. I wrote briefly about the team in my book, Home Team Advantage, and have promised myself many times to write about more about this unique group of young boys and will make good on that promise in the next few weeks. But today I want to write about Brooke and her son, Wyatt.

During the preseason meeting I asked the coach about his emergency plan. Coach "M" laughed at my question and shot back in a sarcastic tone these exact words: "Lacrosse is a safe sport and in my 23 years as a coach I have never seen a serious injury." I could feel the eyes in the room shift to me. I could sense that some of them were thinking to themselves, "Oh, no! Look what she's done! She's jinxed us. We're bound to have a serious injury now!" Some of them, I later learned, were looking at me to challenge the coach; which is exactly what I did. After a moment I collected my thoughts and said, "I have seen some pretty bad injuries over the years, and because the freshmen boy's lacrosse field is very far away from any telephones or other forms of communication, I am wondering: How about a ‘walky-talky'? Do you carry one? (This was before the cell phone age)." Again, the coach looked at me, laughed and said, "Who has time for walky talkies?" And it was on to the next question.

As fate would have it, Coach "M"'s injury-free streak ended halfway through the season. The boys were playing Lexington High, which had some very big players. Wyatt had the ball when a boy double his size came over his shoulder from behind to dislodge the ball he was cradling in the pocket of his stick. The end of his stick smashed down on Wyatt's shoulder, breaking his collarbone. The break ruptured a blood vessel. It was immediately apparent that the injury was very serious, and that Wyatt needed immediate medical attention.

What happened next was the result of pure adrenaline and a mother's instinct. Brooke looked at the coach, who was evaluating Wyatt's injury with no particular urgency. We were stuck out in the farthest field from the school without any way to communicate with the trainer or to call paramedics. Wyatt was bleeding. We all knew he needed to be transported to our local hospital right away.

Brooke did what all smart mothers do when all else fails. She took matters into her own hands. She figured that we were about three miles away from the hospital, which was a straight shot down the highway. She thought that if she waited for the coach to deal with the situation (a coach who, remember, didn't have an emergency plan!), who knows how long it would be before paramedics arrived. So she helped Wyatt to where her car was parked in the lot and drove off to the ER.

Wyatt had a badly broken collarbone and he never again played sports at the high school. He eventually healed and went on to have a wonderful sports career at Proctor Academy. What I recall about the accident was when Wyatt came back all bandaged up a few days later. He was very sore but told me that he intended to be at all the games and practices because, he said, "I love my teammates." I will never forget what that wonderful, fourteen-year-old boy said that day. While others on the team knew they were going off to play at private school the following year and cared less about sharing the victories than about racking up their own goals, Wyatt thought only about supporting the team. He always had a smile. He was always polite. He always put his team first. He was sorely missed.

In the weeks since Wyatt passed away many of his friends, old team mates who are still friends of my sons, have come to visit at our house. Everyone one of them say the same thing: they all loved Wyatt and each mentioned how much he cared about everyone else. We learned a lot from Wyatt about how to be a good teammate and an even better person.