Newtown In Their Hearts
For coach Rob Murray, bringing 35 members of the Danbury (Conn.) boys track team to The Armory for Saturday’s Bishop Loughlin Games was as much about distraction as it was competition.
Danbury, the major hub of western Connecticut, is just 12 miles from Newtown, where Friday’s terrible elementary school shooting took place. The massacre at Sandy Hood Elementary left 27 people dead, including 20 children, and the nation in mourning.
The news hit very hard close to home and deeply affected nearby Danbury High School, which went into "soft lockdown" on Friday, meaning all of the exterior doors were locked and all extracurricular activities were canceled.
Murray spoke to school officials about attending the track meet and was told that it was a good idea to keep the schedule and maintain normalcy, he said.
But it wasn't easy.
"It's been a mix (of emotions)," Murray said. "Everyone is grieving for what took place. Some of the guys are quiet and some are their normal selves."
Senior Michael Leone, who ran in the 600 meters and a relay on Saturday, tweeted before his race: "Running for Newtown at my track meet today."
Leone, who is a member of the Danbury student council and teaches a religion education class at his church, said focusing on the competition was "difficult."
"Knowing that my sister town was just struck with tragedy, and the elementary school especially, I was pretty upset (Friday) night," Leone said.
Leone said he had visited Newtown High School, where he has friends, as recently as Thursday.
"I don't have any direct connections to (Sandy Hook Elementary), but growing up we played different sports against teams from Newtown," Leone said. "I talked to a friend from Newtown High School (Friday) and she was pretty upset about what was going on, why it happened, why Newtown."
Leone said he was attempting to rally his classmates, and those at other schools in the area, to wear Newtown High's colors, blue and yellow, on Monday as a tribute to the neighboring town.
Throughout the day Friday within Danbury High School, which has an enrollment of 3,000, students pieced together scraps of information through social media. Several erroneous rumors that spread circulated indicated the danger might spread into Danbury, further jangling nerves inside the school.
"We couldn’t focus (on school)," Leone said. "We were praying that everyone was safe, but also heard there was a (suspicious) van in Danbury. We were alarmed by that."
The track meet was a welcome reprieve, a chance to vent some energy, and a way to think about something else, even for a few moments.
"Going from my house to Danbury (High) this morning, I was thinking about (the news)," Leone said. "I thought 'I want to do as much as I can for (the people of Newtown).' As soon as I stepped on the track, it left my mind but I carried the motivation with me that I was going to do work for them."
And Sunday, at St. Peter's Church in Danbury, Leone said he would lead his religion class in a prayer for their neighbors.