One early morning last September, Greenbrier High School softball coach Garrett Black was sitting at his desk, piddling around with a lineup for a game later that day against Thomson.
An American flag flies from a car in the parking lot as Augusta Christian warms up for its game against Pinewood Christian last year.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Then Greenbrier principal Gloria Hamilton told him to come see the TV - Black never went back to the lineup card.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001 rendered lineup cards useless.
A year ago today, sports were pushed aside by terrorist attacks. In the aftermath, all Columbia County school activities scheduled for that day, including nine high school athletic events and the opening games of the middle school football season, were postponed.
The Evans volleyball team was supposed to travel to a match against Jonesboro, but that all changed in the blink of an eye.
"The last thing on my mind was whether we would win or lose; it was on whether people were living or dying," said Devin Sengstacke, who is now a senior co-captain for Evans.
Instead of giving her squad tips for a court victory, Lady Knights coach C.C. Armstrong wound up offering her volleyball players more spiritual advice.
"We gathered and I told them not to worry about the game," she said. "One of the things I told them was, if you pray, go home and pray."
Prayer was at a premium at this time last year, as the so-called separation of church and state came crashing down.
The attacks also sparked a search for deeper meaning.
"We talked about it a lot, because at the time we were going through a lot as a team," Black said. Greenbrier player Heather Beale's mother was sick with cancer, and Greenbrier graduate Craig Davis had been killed in an automobile accident earlier in the summer.
"Everyday for the rest of the season, we'd talk about the importance of life," Black said. "The girls asked questions I couldn't answer."
Last September in Columbia County, and elsewhere, answers were hard to come by, but sports would become a step in the healing process.
"It was a relief for us to get back on the field and do what we enjoyed," Black said.
That return to normalcy was comforting, at least to a point.
"We had a game later that week, and that eased a little of the stress, because we were able to concentrate on something else," Evans volleyball player Tracy Gowen recalled. "But even during the game, it was in the back of my mind."
Although the competition was cathartic, memories of the tragedy would inevitably intrude.
When the Evans volleyball team got ready to play its makeup game at Jonesboro, the players were boarding the bus when one mentioned, 'Is this the game we missed on ..."'
She didn't finish her sentence, and the bus became eerily quiet.
Armstrong responded, "Ladies, we're going to move on."
Slowly but surely, the players began to talk.
Today, on the anniversary of the attacks, conversation again will center on the calamity.
The Evans volleyball team will practice this afternoon, but it won't be all fun and games. "I think we'll take some time to think about what happened," Lady Knight Amanda Lessard said. "Things just haven't been the same. I don't think they ever will be."
Meanwhile, the Augusta Preparatory Day School volleyball team, the Harlem cross country team, and the Evans softball team will be in regular-season action on this day of remembrance.
"I look at it as a way to say life goes on," Lady Knights softball coach Colette Cassedy said of playing a road game today at Elbert County. "When the disaster happened, everybody in the country talked about moving on. It was a tragic event, but you have to keep going."
That doesn't mean anyone will ever forget, though.
"I still think about it. That made us realize what we have," Lady Knight softball player Anna Cheely said. "My family and friends mean a lot more to me, because my life could be over any day now."
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