State trip part of recovery
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
It was a simple statement, but one that has several meanings for Dighton High School -- and the entire population of the small southwestern Kansas town of approximately 1,000 residents.
"We'll be back," Chris Johnson said Wednesday night at the Class 1A Division II state basketball tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
The Dighton High band, of which Johnson is one of the co-directors along with his wife, Makenzi, had just finished playing several numbers during halftime of the Hornet girls' first-round game versus Norwich.
Johnson was talking about today's return trip to the state tourney, where the Dighton boys are scheduled to take on White City at 8:15 p.m. in another first-round state game at GMC.
But he could have just as easily been referring to life in general.
The town has been in recover and rebound mode since earlier this year when a high school student died in a vehicle accident on a school band trip.
Sixteen-year-old Hope James was a sophomore who died when the vehicle she was riding in hit a deer and overturned on Interstate 70 on Jan. 25 near Walker.
About a month later, both high school basketball teams qualified for state for the first time together by winning their sub-state championship games at Palco last Saturday.
James, who played the flute, never got the chance to play in the band at a state tournament.
But fellow band members will remember and honor her through the next two years, during the remainder of what would have her high school career.
Chris Johnson said plans are in the works to incorporate into Dighton's band uniforms next year a bandana, something James often wore.
"She just loved wearing bandanas," Johnson said.
Jim Keenan, Dighton's principal, said all the hectic activity of getting ready for another game, and another, and another has helped keep the students occupied following James' accident and funeral.
"This is kind of like therapy, good to stay busy," Keenan said Wednesday afternoon while glancing around spacious GMC.
Students and fans in a variety of colors milled around, bands were blaring, and cheerleaders were jumping with enthusiasm, although they didn't have to try all that hard to get their fans pumped up for these games.
"This," Keenan said, "is a special place to be."