STOUGHTON, Mass. -- The enduring image at Anthony L. Sarno Field Friday night came after Stoughton’s 20-0 win. The Black Knights players, coaches, parents, student fans – almost all clad in black and orange – milled about the field.
None of them seemed to know how to leave. None of them seemed interested either. The gridiron, that comfortable cocoon, a patch of green earth and a little slice of heaven insolated from the inevitable coldness of the outside world, was consoling. It was apparent that as soon as the crowd thinned reality would come crashing back. Maybe in the walk back to the car, maybe on the drive home, maybe before shutting the lights off for the night, maybe Saturday morning.
On Friday morning, Stoughton football player David Wade, 17, was buried. Friday night, his football teammates played a game worthy of tribute.
But it’s the thereafter that’s unnerving.
What happens when we’re all alone?
Wade’s presence was all over Sarno. The Black Knights kept Wade’s uniform, replete with helmet and gloves, on their bench. A decal with Wade’s No. 56 was affixed to back the back of each player’s helmet. T-shirts with the “56” were printed. The number was also spray painted onto the grass in a giant shield near one of the field’s entrances. The crest with a 15-foot high ‘S’ in the middle and Wade’s number was outlined with yard lights.
A moment of silence was observed before the National Anthem. The game ended with Stoughton head coach Greg Burke walking over to gather Wade’s belongings from the bench. Even as Burke was swarmed by media postgame and fought through tears during local television interviews, he clenched the helmet and jersey in his left hand.
Burke talked about his team “sweating and crying” through the week in practice. The 100-plus members of Stoughton High’s football ranks, along with the cheer squad which Wade was a part of during basketball season, were in attendance at St. James Church hours before kickoff. They refocused in time for kickoff. Senior Imani Pina, who scored the Black Knights’ second touchdown on a fumble recovery, described it as a business mentality. After paying their respects in person, the next agenda item was honoring Wade with a victory.
But what happens next?
After watching the community rally in the past week, Burke reflected on the experience. With soft eyes and a thick mop of silver gray hair on his head, it felt as though truth had just sunk upon him. The healing has yet to begin.
“They’re struggling right now,” Burke said of Wade’s family. “You can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through mentally.”
Burke intends to visit Wade’s family, which was in attendance for Friday’s game, on Sunday with a group of his players. He’ll present them with the game ball.
Friday was also homecoming for Stoughton. The pomp and circumstance droned on through halftime, another small respite of normalcy. That too faded. And by the time the clock hit triple zeroes the unease returned.
Last Friday, the Black Knights claimed a win over Hockomock League target Mansfield for a second straight year. Less than 24 hours after contributing to that win, Wade was gone.
One week later, the sting of loss remains. At least for a night, it was shared.
“Dave,” Pina said, “he was with us everywhere tonight.”
There is strength in numbers -- five and six.