PULLMAN – Football has meant a lot of things in a short time to Riley Sorenson. It has paid for college. It has given him friends, and an immeasurably large support network.
And for the four months since the death of his father, it has given him an escape.
“It was crucial. It helped me escape all the head stuff, all the stuff I was going through,” Sorenson said. “I just got to come in, get some work in, not think about anything. At least I had a couple hours off where I didn’t have to think about it.”
The past year was one of great sorrow for Riley Sorenson, who more than once was confronted with his parents’ mortality and who spent what should have been some of his most joyous moments in college wracked with worry.
Yet 2015 was also the year in which Sorenson, thanks to spontaneous kindnesses from those who know him best and those who do not know him at all, found out just how large his family really is.
The first tragedy came after Washington State’s triumphant last-second win at UCLA. Sorenson and his teammates jubilantly walked out of the Rose Bowl tunnel when the offensive lineman felt his father’s hand on his shoulder.
Don’t get on the bus, his father told him. Your mom is in the hospital. She’s not going to make it to Thanksgiving.
So when a coach held Sorenson back when he walked out toward the Sun Bowl field where Miami players were already warming up, he was sure he was going to hear bad news about his mom.
He never thought it would be about his dad.
The morning after a joyous, steak-and-lobster filled Christmas night celebration at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Bart Sorenson and the families of Tyler Hilinski and River and Skyler Cracraft piled into a shuttle to take them to the Sun Bowl.
After arriving at the Sun Bowl, many of them piled into a second shuttle that would take them to the entrance for WSU parents. Someone asked “Any room for a Miami fan?” as the doors started to close. “Nope!” Bart Sorenson retorted.
But then it became apparent something was wrong with Bart Sorenson. He became raspy, and his face was discolored.
The City of El Paso provided a police escort to the hospital, and Riley Sorenson and other WSU parents quickly followed suit. They watched the Sun Bowl in the emergency room, until a doctor informed them a blockage had been found in Bart Sorenson’s heart and that an angioplasty should clear it up.
The group was so hopeful, they returned to the Sun Bowl in good spirits. Bart Sorenson never woke up.
Sorenson, his mother and his younger siblings stayed in El Paso, and were taken care of by April Rystad, the wife of a Sun Bowl Committee member. Rystad drove the family around El Paso and helped them with groceries.
She also set up a GoFundMe account. The online account raised of $68,000, despite some initial confusion about whether or not the NCAA would allow it. Fans donated, teammates donated. Tyler Bruggman, a quarterback who had transferred from WSU more than a year before, donated his money. So did Bruggman’s dad.
“I kept telling her, as soon as this goes out, Washington State is going to go crazy,” said Tracy Cracraft, the mother of River and Skyler. “People are going to be pouring out their support. Especially the day after Christmas and everything.”
Back home in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, WSU families cooked the Sorensons meals for weeks (three other Cougars went to Santa Margarita High). A few of Sorenson’s teammates used their spring break to attend the mid-March service for Bart Sorenson.
And the Sorensons finally got some good news: Karen, Riley’s mother, is now cancer free. And if misfortune should again befall Riley Sorenson, he knows there is a vast community of people who will help see him through it.
“I wish it wasn’t under those circumstances,” Sorenson said. “But it was just awesome to see all the support people had for us.”
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