Posted at: 01/11/2013 12:06 AM
By: Dan Levy
LOUDONVILLE - When rival high schools Shaker and Shenendehowa normally get together for an athletic event, the level of competitiveness couldn't get much higher. But the last six weeks have been anything but normal.
Ever since a horrific car crash on the Northway December 1st, when death and serious injury touched both school communities, the Capital Region has experienced an amazing and unparalleled coming together.
It was a night when compassion won out over competition, when the game of basketball was secondary in importance for the huge crowd that turned out to watch.
"As you can see, we have blue and green tonight on our shirts, so we're rooting for both teams," said Mike Stewart, Christopher Stewart's father.
Mike and Regina Stewart were among the honored guests on a doubleheader night of basketball, involving both boys and girls teams.
Regina says it's a place where her son would have felt right at home.
"I'd say he'd be right smack in the middle of the student section, for sure," Regina said, "Probably screaming loud and getting everybody chanting and cheering."
The capacity crowd was cheering for the four families affected by last month's tragedy, including Shaker student Bailey Wind, still wearing a neck brace after surviving the crash. The Shen football team presented her with a replica of her boyfriend Chris Stewart's jersey number 69.
That jersey, along with Deanna Rivers' softball jersey number 19 have been retired by the Shenendehowa athletic department.
"Physically I'm a lot better," Wind said, "But emotionally it's been really hard. I like getting out socially. I would trade it all to have Chris and Deanna back. I would trade it all."
Crash survivor Matt Hardy was also at the game.
Debbie and Brian Rivers also received a friendly ovation, along with hugs from countless students and staff from both schools.
"Everybody's been wonderful, it's overwhelming," Debbie Rivers said.
"The outpouring is amazing, more than we can ever imagine," said Brian Rivers.
"When you see 3,000 people in the facility that are all there for a basketball game, but also for a bigger purpose, it will make those families feel pretty good about what's going on," said Shenedehowa athletic director Chris Culnan.
"The way this has brought the two communities together, and the Capital Region at large, I hope lasts forever," said Shaker athletic director Ed Dopp. "It's a very positive things. It's a tribute to the communities."
After adding up the gate receipts and t-shirt sales, $22,000 was raised for the Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers Scholarship Funds.
The next time the two schools meet, money will be raised to help defray medical expenses of Bailey Wind and Matt Hardy.