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Franklin quietly moves forward from tragedy


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The Big Blue River is calm this morning, a blue-green wanderer through the rich forests and farmland of southern Johnson County.

Even around the scenic tree-lined dam, where water tumbles over a spillway as cars drive along State Road 252 nearby, a sense of serenity and normalcy is found.

This place is a snapshot of idyllic small-town America, a strikingly beautiful scene tucked into the outskirts of a community. It is the kind of spot where one might take high school senior pictures, with the lush foliage and cool stream providing a marvelous backdrop.

Be calm and move forward, the river seems to say.

Certainly, that is much different from the way it appeared just 12 weeks ago. Heavy summer rain upstream quickened the flow of the river and turned the area below the dam into a churning cauldron.

And it is much different from when five Franklin Community High School teens went swimming above the dam on an otherwise uneventful day, kids starting off their summer break with a refreshing swim.

The nightmare of what happened on June 6 has been replayed countless times. One of the youths, a girl, got swept into the current near the dam. Four of her friends, strapping athletes, went in to save her. Two boys lost their lives in the quest.

In the wake of that unthinkable tragedy, Franklin has come together, a community holding together for support.

The school and all those who hold it dear have come together to grieve, to cry, to pray and ultimately to accept the tragedy that took Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne and left Sarah McLevish hospitalized.

Friday night, Franklin’s football team took the field for its home-opener against Shelbyville.

Moran and Chadbourne should have been there. Indeed, they would have been, seniors leading their team onto the field, defensive backs hawking the ball and plugging the holes with big hits and even bigger cheers.

Anyone who played high school football will tell you that the memories last a lifetime, a highlight reel of the best time in your life.

But for Moran and Chadbourne, it was not to be.

And so, together with their memory firmly carried in stickers and banners and constant thoughts, their teammates moved forward.

In a sense, it was not just a football game here Friday night, it was a catharsis for a community that must move on from the tragedy and embrace the challenges that await.

Be calm and move forward.

“Sometimes community events like a football game are the perfect place to bring the community back together,” Franklin Principal Doug Harter said as he waited for the Cubs to take the field. “It’s a healing process in that we dedicated the bench tonight. Then, in a few minutes we’re going to celebrate youth as they play a football game.

“Really, that’s going to be a great combination.”

Tables lined the path from the front gate to the stands, each selling #FranklinStrong items of one type or another, many displaying the duo’s numbers — 28 and 38. The stands were packed by kickoff.

“I can’t recall the town ever coming together like this,” a press box veteran said.

That was no more evident than in pregame ceremonies, when dozens of the young men’s family members gathered outside the Cubs’ locker room, where a bench was dedicated in their honor.

As thousands cheered the family from the stands, the feeling was mutual. One family member held up a sign pointed back at the stands that read, “Thank you, Franklin — #28 and #38.”

The moment was made more special by the presence of McLevish, who smiled from a wheelchair near the ceremony. Harter said she has been discharged from the hospital.

“We’re very excited that Sarah has made a visit to the school,” Harter said. “We’re looking forward to having her back at school on a more regular basis.”

Be calm and move forward.

If you looked at the Big Blue today, it might echo that advice — a meandering river in a picturesque setting that slowly and steadily moves from one day to the next.

Friday night, Franklin listened and did the same.

“Our kids are very resilient,” Harter said.

So is this community, as Friday night attested.

The pain still stings, as the teary eyes at the bench dedication attested, but they it can’t define you.

Move forward, but never forget.

Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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