LOWELLVILLE — Following the tragic school shooting last week, Lowellville almost missed Monday’s game against Maplewood.
The school has canceled all extracurricular activities and sporting events until further notice after Thursday’s incident in which a student pulled a gun on the floor before shooting himself in the head. No one else at the school was injured in this tragic incident.
Over the weekend, players and coaches gathered on Zoom to chat and discuss whether or not to play in Monday’s sectional semi-final. Rockets head coach Josh Kelly said he has received unwavering unanimous support from his players regarding their desire to play.
“They wanted to be around their team,” Kelly said. “They felt they needed the support of the team to help them through this ordeal. If anything, hopefully this might help clear their minds for a little while.
Having not played or practiced since the days leading up to the incident, Lowellville started slow against Maplewood in the first two innings, but then exploded in the third and fourth innings – scoring 14 runs and riding away to a 15 win. -1 in five innings in the school’s first sporting event since the tragedy.
“I think we all just wanted a little distraction with everything that was going on,” Lowellville pitcher Sammie Kelly said. “We were all so grateful to play this year because of the year we had canceled due to COVID. So we really want to have every opportunity to play that we can.
In the days following the incident, the school received an outpouring of support from other schools in the Mahoning Valley.
Sports teams posted messages on social media and displayed posters at games of their own sporting events offering thoughts and prayers for the school and the community of Lowellville.
“It was amazing – the support from Facebook and social media was outstanding,” said Josh. “It’s really helped the team stay focused. It’s just a sport — it’s just softball, but it’s something these kids love to do and they work well together and they love being with their team. We preach family and these are the times when family needs to come together, so I was very happy that we were able to get this game.”
The players were originally supposed to return to school today, but school administrators changed that to Wednesday. Still, Lowellville was able to play its game.
Josh believes that the environment provided by school sports ultimately helps players and students cope with the psychological effects in the wake of the tragedy.
“I think everyone’s natural response to a tragedy like this is to pull out – I want my kids home, I want them with me. Everyone was terrified,” Josh said. “Having a team event is good for the kids to get out and get back to some normality. It helps them have that ‘outer family,’ if you will, so they can talk to each other about things they don’t may not want to talk to mom or dad.
“I think it’s a good healing process for them and kudos to the school for making sure we got this game on board and helping us try and get back to some normality.”
After the win, the team gathered around second base and knelt in prayer – something Josh said was player-driven and was the players’ idea.
“You could see (the stress) on their faces from the start of the game, so when we had our meeting at second base, there was a sense of relief, almost, for the players,” Josh said. “They took the first step towards healing and I’m happy for them. It’s a strong group of women and I’m proud to be their coach.
With the win, Lowellville advances to face No. 7 seed Chalker on Wednesday.
Despite the loss, Maplewood head coach James Yoder is pleased with the improvement he has seen in his players in his second year at the helm of the program.
“We exceeded expectations last year, we grew, matured and evolved,” Yoder said. “Last year we had problems with throwing, but this game is obviously not indicative of our progress. It was almost a homecoming last year and this year we had some really good games and close games. (I told them,) my goals since the start of the season were, I want you to improve at whatever level you are and I want you to come back and play next year, and that’s what happened .