Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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David Briggs

Sports help normalcy return to Central Mich. in wake of shooting

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    A moment in silence is held in honor of the two people who were killed March 2 on the campus of Central Michigan University, before the Mid-American Conference tournament game between Bowling Green and CMU on Monday.

    Special to Blade/Samantha Madar

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MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Silence, then cheers.

Three days after a student allegedly killed his parents in a dorm room and terror seized the campus here, the soundtrack of winter returned to Central Michigan University on Monday night.

Pep-band saxophones shrilled. Sneakers squealed. Students squawked.

Proclaimed one sign: “BOWLING GREEN IS NOT A STATE.” Another reminded the visitors: “50 Percent is Still Failing!”

“It’s good to be back,” said Grant McPherson, a Central Michigan senior in the end-zone student section at McGuirk Arena.

McPherson rocked a maroon-and-gold-striped shirt and a matching wig. Next to him, his buddy, Nick Gembarski, wore his heart on his painted face. Two days earlier, the fanatics holed up in their off-campus house listening on the radio to the Chippewas basketball team’s season finale against Western Michigan. The game was scheduled to be played in their on-campus bandbox Friday night, but with a gunman on the lam and a campus on edge, it got moved 30 miles east to Division II Northwood University. Central defeated its rivals in near silence, the game open only to family members on a vetted list. .

“We were bummed to not be there to harass Western,” McPherson said.

Sports and tragedy. Nothing causes us to lose more perspective than sports, just as nothing causes us to gain more of it than tragedy.

Monday, we saw them intersect. Campus reopened and the spirit returned, from a senseless act emerging reflection but also the welcome rhythms of the routine.

In the grand scheme, of course, Bowling Green’s 81-77 overtime loss in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament meant little. An ill young man from suburban Chicago so senselessly slaughtering his parents offered yet another powerful reminder of that reality.

Yet what Monday also reminded is of the binding power of community. That’s a cliche ... until you experience it.

Mount Pleasant is a place not unlike Bowling Green, where the students nearly double the population and the closely bound town centers around the university, and its pride came through loudly. Despite students being on spring break, a night that began with a moment of silence ended with the half-filled crowd going hoarse, on its feet for the last minutes of regulation and all through overtime.

“Everyone’s all in this together,” said freshman Nicole Balser.

“It’s tough to really understand how much a basketball game or an athletic team can mean during a time like this,” Central Michigan coach Keno Davis said afterward. “Life’s a lot bigger than sports. We’re going to be try to be as good of a team as we can be, but we understand a game, these couple hours, might be an opportunity for [the community] to get away, probably for our team as well.”

The students here said casting this latest school shooting only as a tragic domestic dispute does not do justice the horror it inflicted. Not in these times.

Police said the suspect’s parents — Diva Davis, a flight attendant for American Airlines, and James Davis, Sr., a part-time police officer and retired military recruiter — arrived here Friday morning to pick up their son from a hospital, where he was taken the night before in a delirious daze after a suspected drug overdose or wayward reaction.

They planned to take him home for break but first dropped by his dorm, Campbell Hall, a red-brick building on edge of campus that looks out on a forever flat of farmland. The student allegedly shot his parents in his fourth-floor room, then fled.

Fortunately, the violence ended there, but the fear in town — and, for one family, the inconceivable despair — was no less real.

A manhunt that enlisted more than 100 police officers left the closed-down campus on edge. The Western Michigan players stayed locked in their hotel rooms, the Central students in their classrooms and dorms and apartments. McPherson and Gembarski, the super fans, spent the day trading texts with family and friends letting them know they were OK. “We pretty much just stared at each other for 12 hours refreshing Twitter,” Gembarski said.

It was only Saturday morning word arrived the suspect was found in town.

The games would go on, but suddenly, they no longer felt like everything.

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