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Archive for Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tait: Tragic loss reveals life lesson

April 16, 2008

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Monday afternoon, between sessions at a Free State High soccer practice and Free State's 14-10 baseball victory over Olathe East, I received a phone call from my old stomping grounds.

On the other end of the line was the father of two athletes I covered during my time at the Basehor Sentinel, a weekly newspaper owned by the World Company.

Excited to hear from an old friend, but curious as to what he could be calling for, I quickly found out he was the bearer of bad news. Michael Armstrong, a former Basehor-Linwood High School quarterback whom I had covered, had passed away Monday morning in Colorado.

It seems Armstrong was in an accident Sunday night and was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. As night turned to morning, his condition worsened, and he passed away early Monday morning.

The news hit me harder than I would have suspected.

I knew Michael, remembered him well. In fact, to this day he stands as one of the best athletes I've covered, both on and off the field. Immediately, my mind overflowed with memories of Armstrong's days with the Bobcats.

I remember hearing about him when he was just a freshman, waiting in the wings to take over the BLHS program. I remember what an incredible athlete he was and how he often turned sure losses into touchdowns or improbable rebounds into points. I remember his three-touchdown, 158-yard performance in the opening game of the 2004-05 season against Bonner Springs. I remembered being amazed by every yard he gained and how the 2005 BLHS graduate played every down with a smile, even the plays when he got knocked on his back.

BLHS football coach Steve Hopkins remembered it, too.

"That was what made him different," Hopkins said. "He was a great athlete, and he had great character, too. Some kids are just fabulous athletes but they don't enjoy the games. But Michael really did. He always had the belief that he could find a way to get the job done. And he usually did."

Michael has two younger sisters who attend BLHS. The girls and their friends weren't alone in grieving Monday at school. This year's seniors were freshmen when Armstrong was a senior. Many of them watched in awe at Michael's every spectacular play and every classy gesture.

I realize a large number of those reading this never had heard of Michael Armstrong until today. That's hardly the point. Michael Armstrong, Bob Smith, Mark Jones, whatever; the name is irrelevant. What does matter is that Michael's passing can teach all of us that life is short and seems to be getting shorter and shorter with every generation.

The older I get the more I come to realize this is true.

It's one thing to have older family members pass away, but it's an entirely different thing to see a healthy, young man like Michael depart.

The things we have and the opportunities we receive truly are gifts. And they should be looked at as such every day.

That's how Michael always saw things. And although his passing is incredibly sad, my mind and heart are comforted by that thought.

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