Like every parent to a Freeman School District student, Eva Windlin-Jansen’s Wednesday morning was punctuated with panic. But unlike many, hers was assuaged quickly.
Her daughter, Rhea, is both a student at Freeman High and a member of the volleyball team Windlin-Jansen coaches.
“I was actually pretty fortunate because I knew right away that she was safe,” she said. “She did have her phone, and I knew within minutes that she was healthy and she was fine. But for a lot of parents there was a long time waiting to hear what happened and the who, what, when and where of it all. A long time waiting.”
The news trickled in. One student had been killed trying to disarm his fellow student and three girls had been shot and were taken by ambulance or helicopter to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
For the coach, it was difficult news to hear. Two of the wounded girls were members of her volleyball teams: Jordyn Goldsmith and Gracie Jensen. The third, Emma Nees, was a cheerleader and part of the extended family of athletes.
“That’s what makes it so hard,” she said. “These are people you’ve been on the bus with, people you were playing next to the night before. Those are the kinds of things these kids are dealing with. It could have been me. That hits you a little bit differently. It happened to somebody that close to you, that you’ve spent that much time with.
“That’s part of what we’re dealing with. You know, everybody. You don’t expect something like this to happen here because you know everybody. It’s possible for this to happen somewhere else, but not here.”
The volleyball team had been scheduled to play a home match the next day, but that along with everything else school-related was canceled. Windlin-Jansen gave her team a few days to just hold on to their parents and family, and each other.
Friday night the football team played its scheduled game with Medical Lake and that time together was cathartic for the entire community.
There has been an outpouring of support from across the state and around the world. Marysville-Pilchuck High School, which is still dealing with a student shooting there in October 2014, sent messages of support. Washington State Cougars wore bone stickers on their helmets – the same emblem Scottie football players earn for stellar performances.
“It was exceptional,” Windlin-Jansen said of the support. “From the moment that it hit the news we started getting asked, ‘What can we do?’ It started Wednesday morning and didn’t end from there. It was truly heartwarming. It’s something you don’t want to experience, ever, but it helps you through everything. I’m sure we would do the same in another situation.”
Monday was the first day back at school, and two of the wounded girls made brief appearances at school, much to the delight of their fellow students.
And Monday was the first day back on the court for the team. The coach had no agenda for the session.
“We’re just going to talk for a while and see where we are and how we’re doing,” she said. “We’re going to honor the kids who aren’t there, certainly. If we get to it, we may hit some balls for a while, but that’s not the important part.”
For Windlin-Jansen, who has coached the sport at any number of levels, including as head coach at Gonzaga University, this situation calls for her higher calling: being a mom.
“I think that’s normal, and I think anyone would take that approach,” she said. “I think that what’s left for us to do is to try to help in one little way, and that’s to help these kids live on. This is all new for everybody. Every kid has had a different experience with everything that’s happened here. We need to give them an opportunity to find a way to deal with it.”
There will be plenty of time for the team to get itself back on track, she said. That’s more or less on a back burner.
The school canceled a road match scheduled for Tuesday and asked Newport to swap home dates so tonight’s match could be played at Freeman. A road trip would be too much, too soon.
“They (Newport) were very supportive in allowing us to do this,” the coach said. “Our first time out now really needs to be at home and with the support of our parents and families.”
Most coaches will look for something, some moment during the season that will define a team. Sometimes it’s a comeback from a match that was going south that’s salvaged for a win.
This year, for this team, Windlin-Jansen said, that’s already happened.
“For these kids, this event will define their high school years,” she said. “There will always be a before and an after. All you can do is to shape it in a way, however that way is.”
For now, there will be the chance to play volleyball, with the hope that players can lose themselves in continuity of a game they have been playing for years.
“We play,” the coach said. “While we play we’ll be focused. But at the same time, for now you don’t prepare in the same way. But that’s OK.”
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