On a see-your-breath chilled night of heated rivalry football between Cody and Powell, one young man’s plight unified fans and players.
Ethan Asher was not present at Spike Vannoy Stadium for Friday night’s “Big Horn Brawl” 38-14 victory by the Broncs, but he was on everyone’s mind and on many fans’ chests.
The should-have-been Panther quarterback is still hospitalized, fighting to regain both his equilibrium and future due to a single-truck rollover accident in August.
His injuries, including swelling on the brain, a tear in his aorta, injured spinal cord, broken ribs and a broken clavicle are significant.
There has been a deluge of prayers, wishes, hopes and fundraising, not only in Powell, to help pay medical bills.
When terrible things like this happen, the state with the smallest population steps up with the biggest heart and most generous gestures.
Oh boy, when it comes to rivalries, there is nothing bigger around here than Cody-Powell, the towns about 25 miles apart. Name the sport and players will tell you if they must only win one game all season it is against “them.”
Friday, as Cody and Powell banged shoulder pads on the field, Ethan Asher was not in uniform, but an image of him, in his No. 3 jersey busting through a line of scrimmage against a backdrop of gray and some orange was displayed in the stands, on both Powell and Cody sides.
T-shirts. They read “Team Ethan.” Cody officials pondered what they could do to make a statement of support for Asher. Assistant football coach Shawn Trotter advanced the T-shirt idea.
Sure, the Broncs wanted to win the game. Sure, they played hard and well to earn their 6-0 record. But instead of working up a good grudge for the Panthers this week, students dug into their storehouse of decency and their wallets to contribute $10 each for an Ethan shirt.
Cody began with 450 Asher T-shirts for sale, said athletic director Tony Hult. By game time, there were about 40 left. They kept selling at the concession stand during the game and at the final gun about a half-dozen remained.
“We were talking about what we could do for a while,” Hult said. “They’re our rivals, but they’re our friends.”
The frigid, below-freezing air required overcoats. Hult joked that those buying extra-larges put them on top of jackets. It wasn’t quite the Ice Bowl, but it was not T-shirt weather.
Eleven members of the Cody band’s color guard did flash Team Ethan shirts as their outer layer.
All 75 band members got T-shirts, director Wade French said. One parent anted up for everyone.
If you were a football player, you wore your team colors with a number on the jersey. But that didn’t mean Bronc coaches overlooked Asher in pre-game talks.
“We talked about how we support him,” Cody coach Matt McFadden said. “We’ve been following him. It’s (the T-shirt) a small gesture.”
The night’s undercurrent made you periodically glance at the ambulance parked next to the fence, just in case because football can be a dangerous sport. Did parents in the stands quietly glance at the emergency vehicle and think, “Please, not my child?”
Asher’s catastrophic injuries did not even occur in football, but he did require emergency assistance.
Cody and Powell athletes represent their own communities on sports fields. But they overlap on them.
“I know him pretty well,” Cody defensive back Tristan Blatt said.
After the accident, Blatt promptly sent Asher a text reading, “I’m praying for you, dude.”
Bronc lineman Jeff Williams said he knows Asher as well as one can after playing against him in several sports for 10 years.
“He’s a great kid,” Williams said. “It is a bad thing that happened there.”
After the game, Cody players and Powell players mingled at mid-field, taking a knee as Panther Brody Karhu addressed the group, thanking the Broncs for supporting his teammates’ brother and imploring God to allow Asher to get well.
It was a scene not often seen. There was a winner and a loser on the scoreboard, but this time everyone knew the stakes were much higher.