Randy Hollis: Tragedies underscore need to keep loved ones close

Published: Saturday, July 7 2012 7:41 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes there's such a fine line between life and death, and joy and sorrow, that it's difficult to comprehend why things happen the way they do.

In the newspaper biz, and especially here in the sports department, we deal daily with the proverbial thrill of victory and agony of defeat. Seldom, though, do we deal with things so devastating as the tragic death of a young person who is called home much before their time.

But in the past couple of weeks, two groups of people who are directly involved with the "beats" that I cover at the Deseret News — high school baseball and Weber State University football — were forced to deal with the sudden, untimely death of loved ones.

And in both cases, something that should have been filled with excitement and cause for celebration turned into a life-changing tragedy. Indeed, in both cases, great joy turned into terrible sorrow, almost in an instant.

Kreg "K.J." Harrison Jr., only a sophomore, was a solid high school baseball player who made the starting lineup as a designated hitter at Snow Canyon. On May 12, in the opening round of this year's 3A state tournament, he delivered a clutch two-run single in the ninth inning to help give the Warriors a dramatic 3-1 victory over Juan Diego.

It was a mighty proud moment for this humble young man, who was quick to give credit to his teammates for getting on base ahead of him and putting him in a position to drive them home.

Six days later, Harrison smacked another key two-run single in Snow Canyon's semifinal victory over last year's state champion, Spanish Fork. The next day, Harrison and his teammates celebrated another victory over Juan Diego that gave the Warriors the 3A state championship.

And a month later, this fine young man with such a bright future ahead of him was gone.

On June 20, the 16-year-old Harrison drowned while swimming at Mooney Falls near Flagstaff, Ariz., along with other members of his Boy Scout troop on a trip to Arizona.

A bunch of Boy Scouts, accompanied by several adults — including a doctor — on an outing together when something like this happens? No, it doesn't make much sense. Sadly, though, heartbreaking things like this happen quite often. As we know all too well, Death never takes a day off.

"K.J. was just one of those kids who did everything the right way," Snow Canyon coach Reed Secrist told Andy Griffin of the St. George News. "He worked hard, he listened and was coachable. He was happy and positive. As a coach, you'd love to have a whole team of K.J.s."

A day after Harrison's tragic death, Weber State University assistant football coach Ted Stanley welcomed his first child, a healthy baby girl named Emmerson Stanley, into the world on June 21.

As a parent and grandparent, I know what an absolutely joyous occasion this can be. Or, at least, it certainly should be.

But due to complications of labor, Ted's wife Jocelyn Stanley died four days later — a grieving husband left behind in mourning, and an infant daughter who will never have a chance to know the mother who brought her into this world. At least, not in this life.

Again, something so special as the birth of a child becomes a tragic event marred by a new mom's devastating death.

"Our deepest thoughts, prayers and concerns are with Ted, Emmerson and their family at this time," said Weber State football head coach Jody Sears. "Events like this really put life in perspective."

"We will continue to pray and support Ted and his family throughout this process."

I suppose the point of all this is that life — and certainly death — are not always fair. Terrible things often happen to terrific people. And, too often, life's greatest joys can turn into tremendous sorrow — sometimes in an instant.

So the underlying message here is to be sure and pull your loved ones close to you whenever you can. Every chance you get, tell them you love them and appreciate them — and don't ever be too proud, stubborn or embarrassed to say so. Don't let petty issues, jealousies or arguments spoil those special relationships in your life, and truly cherish those times you get to spend together with those you love.

Because, as the Harrison and Stanley families have learned over the last couple of weeks, as well as the Snow Canyon and Weber State communities, you just never know when those wonderful times might suddenly, in what seems like the mere blink of an eye, be taken away from you.

email: rhollis@desnews.com

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