FIVE YEARS LATER, BLUFFTON REMEMBERS TRAGEDY
More than 150 members of the Bluffton University community gathered on Friday to reflect on the life-changing events of March 2, 2007, when a bus carrying the Bluffton baseball team to spring-break games in Florida crashed in Atlanta, taking seven lives.
But speakers at the service marking the fifth anniversary of the tragedy also remembered the caring and support that came the community’s way in the accident’s aftermath.
The short service was held at the Circle of Remembrance, adjacent to Bluffton’s Memorial Field. A pedestal topped by a bronze sculpture, "Touching Home," is at the center of the circle, whose features also include a commemorative plaque, a semicircular wall with photos and short biographies of the five players who lost their lives, and five curved stone benches.
Calling it "a very special place on our campus," university President James Harder said the Circle of Remembrance "speaks profoundly to the many visitors, and now to a new generation of Bluffton students, who are inspired by the story it conveys."
The memorial summons reflections "of deep loss—loss of life at an unfairly young age for Zachary Arend, for David Betts, for Scott Harmon, for Cody Holp and for Tyler Williams, as well as for the bus driver and his wife. Loss of sons, of brothers, of teammates and of close friends," Harder said.
To the 28 others on the bus that March morning—players, student managers and coaches—the circle also brings reflections "of injuries and trauma, in some cases with lifetime scars," the president added.
He asserted, however, that it carries other messages as well—"of God’s providence, of profound courage, of true teamwork, of deep acts of love for each other, of a spontaneous outpouring of caring from fellow students, faculty and staff, and from an extended community of support stretching all the way to Atlanta and beyond."
That support took many forms, including caring words from strangers on cards and banners from schools, teams, churches and individuals—"love poured out to us," as Katherine Dickson, Bluffton’s career development director, put it in her meditation Friday.
"We stand with you," she said, to the families of the five student-athletes who died, to everyone else who was on the bus, and specifically to Head Coach James Grandey, who recovered from his injuries and remains the team’s coach today.
"We do not forget, and yet we look forward with hope," Dickson said. "God is present with us."
Following a moment of silence, Dickson led a responsive reading with Estee Arend, Zachary’s sister and a current junior at Bluffton. Among the biblical verses they quoted were three that were also among Scripture readings by Grandey and alumnus Tim Berta, who was seriously injured five years ago as well—Hebrews 13:5 ("Again, we hear God say, ‘Never will I leave you or forsake you’"); Isaiah 41:10 ("Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God"); and Psalm 46:10 ("Be still and know that I am God.")
The service also included a song, "Go, my friends, in grace," by eight current Bluffton students and, after a closing prayer by Harder, an opportunity for anyone with a connection to one of the hand or shoe marks on "Touching Home" to find that mark. The sculpture includes shoeprints from the cleats of the five players who lost their lives, along with handprints or other chosen marks from the surviving members of the 2007 team.
A few members of the team were in attendance and gathered around the sculpture with Berta, Grandey and a few family members for that final gesture of remembrance.
"This sculpture represents the unity in community," Dickson said, "and the strength we find in one another."
Public relations office, 3/2/12