Shen v. Shaker: Caring rivals

Posted at: 12/07/2012 11:50 PM
By: Dan Levy

COLONIE - High school basketball games and funeral wakes are supposed to come at opposite ends of a lifetime, but Friday night in the Capital Region, those events were occurring not just simultaneously, but together in spirit.

Up until this week, Shaker and Shenendehowa had been fierce rivals on the Suburban Council athletic fields, and even though the rivalry will undoubtedly continue, Friday night seemed to mark a transition from fierceness to fellowship.

Inside a church sanctuary in Round Lake, mourners lined up for hours at the wake for Shenendehowa football captain Christopher Stewart. At the very same time, inside the Shaker High School gymnasium, in Colonie, a moment of silence was observed for Stewart and Shenendehowa softball player Deanna Rivers, both killed in a car crash on the Northway December 1st.

"We obviously have developed a special bond with Shaker," said Shenendehowa Principal Don Flynt, attending the Shaker basketball game Friday night. "We're certainly grateful for all that they've done."

The special bond was visible on the Shaker basketball court where Blue Bison players etched the jersey numbers of the fallen Shen athletes on their sneakers, and also visible on the Shaker cheerleaders, dressed in blue uniforms with green ribbons of solidarity in their hair.

"They really surprised me with how much they've care and shown initiative to bring it upon themselves and show their support on their own," said Erika Shepard, Shaker's cheerleader coach. "They did it without any adult instruction."

Back at the wake, Shenendehowa Athletic Director Chris Culnan says a lot of people are learning valuable life lessons this week.

"You don't wish it upon anyone but their ability to get through it inspires us as administrators," Culnan says, "they're great kids and they're going to be great leaders in the future."

Perhaps the greatest lesson learned in the wake of tragedy is the sense of caring and compassion that has now crisscrossed community lines and blanketed the Capital Region.

"It's just been amazing and I think it's brought our athletes really close to one another," Flynt observed. "Now, even though we still want to beat them on the court, or on the baseball field, it's going to be a different feeling."

"It will be a little bit different," Shaker's Shepard agrees. "I think we've always been competitors with each other but now when Shaker meets Shen in the future in any of our sporting events, it'll mean something different."

Matthew Hardy, a Shenendehowa football player, and Bailey Wind, a member of the Shaker diving team, who were both badly injured in last week's crash, were able to attend Stewart's wake.

Chris Stewart will be laid to rest on Saturday.