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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2007

CWS pays tribute to Bluffton team

KANSAS CITY STAR

OMAHA - John Betts pulled out a photograph of his son David, wearing his Bluffton University baseball uniform and a smile.

"And this is his tough-guy look," Betts said. "That's the kind of kid he was."

David Betts was one of five players who died along with two others when the Bluffton team bus crashed on the way to a Florida tournament in March. Dozens were injured.

The NCAA invited Bluffton to the College World Series, and the team participated in Thursday's opening ceremonies.

They watched Friday's two games from a Rosenblatt Stadium suite and returned home yesterday morning. Betts couldn't think of a better place to spend time.

"We shared so much baseball together," Betts said. "The baseball field is where he was happy, and he would have loved being here."

The group included 13 players, plus coaches and school officials and family of deceased players. An anonymous donor paid for the trip.

"I wish I knew who it was," Betts said.

"I'd like to thank that person."

The generosity should come as no surprise. Support poured into the campus of Bluffton, a school that is affiliated with the Mennonite church and competes in Division III.

The baseball community rallied around the Beavers. Major-league teams, NFL teams, colleges, high schools, and even youth leagues expressed their sympathy. Some wore Bluffton patches on their uniforms.

Coach James Grandey, who broke several bones in his face in the accident, was quietly pulling for South Carolina in the tournament after receiving a thoughtful letter from Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner.

"It's great for the guys to know how supportive people all over the country and especially those in the baseball community are," Grandey said.

The college baseball season was just beginning when news of the tragedy quickly spread. Early on the morning of March 2, the bus, carrying 33 members of the team and traveling party, was headed south on Interstate 75 in Atlanta and mistakenly headed up a left-side exit ramp.

The bus hit an embankment, toppled over, and dropped 30 feet back onto the interstate.

Four players died that day: David Betts, Scott Harmon, Tyler Williams and Cody Holp. A fifth, Zach Arend, died of his injuries a week later. Also killed were bus driver Jerome Neimeyer and his wife, Jean.

Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board said last month that they are months away from determining what happened.

John Betts is working to make safety belts mandatory on buses. The bus that carried the team had seat belts only for a few passengers.

"Something positive should come from this," he said.

Continuing the season also was a positive step. The players voted unanimously to carry on, even without five teammates who would never rejoin them and five others too injured to play.

And Betts couldn't stay away from the game his son loved and the school that's so much a part of the family. David's great-grandfather was Bluffton's president. Both of David's parents and all four grandparents attended Bluffton. David's sister, Sarah, holds most of the school's softball pitching records.

David, a sophomore, was the latest to proudly wear the purple and white. As a freshman he didn't make the travel squad, but he had a surprise for his dad in Florida. David was going to start at second base, and he didn't tell his family.

"He was going to run out there, and we'd see him in the starting lineup," said John Betts, who was flying to Florida on the same day.

The Beavers finished the season 5-19, but finishing the season was the greatest triumph. The team has been invited to several major-league stadiums this summer and that will help the healing process.

Like the trip to Omaha.

Thursday, the team was introduced along with the eight participants and received the loudest ovation.

"Just being here has been great for the guys," Grandey said.



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