Two large rectangular banners hanging inside the blockhouse at Franklin Community High School since June will remain there indefinitely.
Each is adorned with a Grizzly Cubs logo, two large blue paw prints, a football helmet with that former player’s number on the side and numerous messages from individuals touched by the lives of Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne.
“You’re my boy, Blue (Moran). This is all for you” — Dylan Munn.
“Love you, Chaddy. Save a spot up there for me” — JK #56.
In an unflawed world, the banners wouldn’t be there, much less be unavoidable daily reminders of a tragedy that knocked the wind out of a program, school and community while devastating several families.
Moran would be walking through the blockhouse doors, a senior linebacker eagerly anticipating slipping on his No. 28 jersey for the practice or game ahead. The same is true for Chadbourne, No. 38, another senior who could be counted on to play outside linebacker, cornerback or even free safety if the situation called for it.
But the world is flawed.
On June 6, Moran and Chadbourne were attempting to save a friend while swimming at the Big Blue River dam in Edinburgh when all three were pulled under. Two other friends who were there, Mark Nally and Trent Crabb, escaped the powerful currents and managed to pull Chadbourne to land.
The heroic act cost Moran and Chadbourne their lives.
For Nally, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior split end and defensive back, he not only lost two teammates but his two best friends.
He must move forward in life playing football without them, he says, and he must move forward in general.
“It changed me a lot because those are my best friends since I was in elementary school,” Nally said softly. “I’ll remember what a funny kid (Moran) was. He could make anybody laugh. I’ll miss just watching him play football, a sport he loved doing more than anything. Mike was funny, smart, athletic and got along with everybody. One of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet.
“This makes you think about life. Spend as much time as you can with your family because you don’t know when it’s going to be your last time seeing them.”
As of this evening, Nally and his Franklin teammates are officially back in the business of playing football games when the Grizzly Cubs travel to Seymour to open the 2014 regular season.
Neither Moran, who with 68 tackles tied for second on the team as a junior, nor Chadbourne (23 tackles) will occupy a seat on the team bus. But their spirit, individually and collectively, promises to make it to every game.
“I always think of them whenever I’m pushing myself,” senior halfback Ryan Torrance said. “That makes me push myself to go harder and harder in everything I’m doing. Knowing that they’re always going to be on the field with us, we’re still going to have fun out there.
“It’s important to us to win games and to come together as a team. We all know they’re on the field with us every Friday night. I think that no matter what happens this season they’ll always be proud of us.”
Tragedies such as the one the community has endured isn’t a subject covered at offseason coach’s clinics or in the pages of the most sophisticated playbook.
“I was at the school when I got the call (on June 6),” second-year head coach Adam Reese said. “I was walking down the hallway and checking the dock because we were expecting a shipment of some practice gear. I got two phone calls within like 30 seconds from people who don’t necessarily call me all the time. So I knew right away that something was going on.
“I don’t know if I can even explain what it feels like. To start with, you’re wondering how accurate the information is that you’re getting. On the other hand, you’re thinking, ‘Is there something that can be done still to help these kids?’ You also begin thinking about their families as well as about every other kid on the team.
“How are they getting information? Are they getting accurate information? Those sorts of things.”
Once worst fears were confirmed, Reese had to be there for his players.
“The hardest part for me was to try to get these kids to understand that however they were feeling was OK. Knowing at the same time there was a huge difference between certain guys in the room. We had players who had gone to school since kindergarten with these guys and incoming freshmen who didn’t know them at all,” Reese said.
“I have relationships with the kids, and as much as I want to have those relationships where kids feel comfortable talking to me, there is still something about the head coach and the team. Every kid feels a little bit of a barrier there no matter how much we try to break it down.”
“Miss ya, Chaddy. Fly high in paradise.”
“You are and always will be part of my family” — junior lineman Dilon Byrum’s message to Moran.
From a numerical standpoint, Franklin’s 86-player varsity goes straight from No. 27 (Joe Stevenson) to No. 29 (Chad Williams) and from No. 37 (Zach Dowell) to No. 39 (Payton Utterback).
No Grizzly Cubs player will wear No. 28 or 38. Not this season. Maybe not in the foreseeable future or ever again.
Merely one tribute, but one that’s well-deserved.
Another is the benches to be dedicated in Moran and Chadbourne’s honor at Franklin’s home-opener against Shelbyville on Aug. 29.
“Jason put it out there for us every play. He was the one who would go the extra mile to do whatever it takes. And Chadbourne, he always wanted to bring a smile to everyone’s face. If it was a tough moment in the summer, he would crack a joke or something like that,” senior defensive end Nik Welch said.
“What we’ll do is just play for them. Put it all out there because you know they would. This makes me look at life differently, like it could end just like that. They went out there to have a good time, and it just ended.”
“Will always love and miss you, man. Thanks for being the best friend a friend could be” — senior linebacker Cole Edwards’ message to Moran.
Locating plusses in a storyline responsible for erasing two young lives is nearly impossible.
As coaches, Reese and members of his staff have to continue trying.
“The one thing that has come from this that is a positive is I think our team is closer as a group. I don’t talk about the tragedy, and I don’t say to our kids, ‘Go out and play for Michael and Jason.’ I don’t necessarily believe that’s appropriate,” Reese said.
“But there is a sense of it from our kids that they’re playing for each other a little bit more than maybe they have in the past or what they would have done had this not occurred.”