MURRAY — With ponytails and braids bowed in purple and gold ribbons, Murray and Orient-Macksburg softball players stood like so, pinkie fingers locked together as they stood in a line, facing the American flag, at half mast.
The match up against O-M was Murray’s first after a tragic car accident killed three of their classmates – Brooklyn Eggers, Gavin Werner and Rylon Cook – May 27.
Prior to the game, head coach Tessa Otto gave the Mustangs a pep talk in an effort to encourage strength to compete amidst strong emotions.
“I talked to them before the game just about how were going to need to move on. It’s not going to happen right away, but as far as the community goes, being out there being able to see them play softball and having a smile on their face is going to bring joy to the community,” said Tessa Otto, Murray’s head softball coach.
Before the game, Nodaway Valley girls presented the Murray team with treats and gift cards for a team outing. Orient-Macksburg players arrived with Murray’s team colors streaming from their hair.
“It’s shown that there are greater things than softball out there and that the game is more than just completing and playing,” she said.
During the first inning, Orient-Macksburg opened the game with 7 runs.
“I knew that, as far as being prepared, not only mentally, but physically, I knew that it could be a little rough,” Otto said.
When Murray went to bat, Otto reminded her team to stay positive.
“That’s what I told them ... there’s a lot of game left,” she said.
The Mustangs came back with 9 runs before the end of the first inning.
“That was really a big half inning for us for the whole weekend just to get back in the swing of things, and get that positivity and confidence back,” said Otto. “The girls got really excited. It was really good for the girls.”
Murray defeated Orient-Macksburg 12-8. Nodaway Valley won the tournament.
At the end of the game, the players from both teams stood together as they released purple balloons to honor Eggers, Werner, Cook and the Murray community.
The sting of grief is familiar to Orient-Macksburg, too. Its team lost one of its softball players Sammi Long, who was killed in a vehicle accident in December 2019. At that time, the Mustangs stood along side the Bulldogs, showing support during their time of grieving.
“Having them be able to do the same thing for us, it was good for both teams to be able to do that,” said Keith Shields, Murray’s assistant coach. “Orient, of all the communities that reached out, it hits home with them a little more.”
Support for Murray has been displayed by a number of area teams. Lamoni’s baseball team, who lost baseball player Logan Gilliand to a vehicle accident in May 2017, wore purple baseball socks with their red and grey uniforms during games this week in a show of support.
Retired Murray Softball Coach Danny Jensen said the support from area teams has been moving. East Union baseball players’ hats are embellished with purple hearts with a gold ‘M’ at its center. Softball players across the Pride of Iowa, Bluegrass, South Central and Hawkeye conferences are donning bows in Murray’s team colors in their hair, tied to their belt loops or worn as shoe laces.
“It was really fitting that Nodaway won that thing wearing those Murray Strong T-shirts ... just a tremendous tributes by one of our opponents,” said Jensen. “Our kids were touched by it and I know coach Otto was touched by it.”
“They were all still upset, but as far as understanding that life has to go on,” said Otto. “With everyone doing stuff in the community and playing these teams, I’ve think they’ve gained more friendship and camaraderie with these athletes.”
Shields said the experience has taught the players that softball is more than a game.
“I think a lot of our kids realized this week, it’s competitive, it’s fun, you want to go out and do your best, but there’s a lot more important things,” he said. “... We’re part of something bigger and people have our backs ...”