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by Austin Arnold A very special and emotional ceremony was held for the latest induction into Bluffton University’s Athletics Hall of Fame, as the 2007 Beaver baseball team earned that honor on Saturday night.
Nearly ten years ago, tragedy struck the 2007 BU baseball team as it was making its way to Sarasota, Florida, for the program’s annual spring training session. On March 2, 2007, the team’s charter bus fell from an overpass in Atlanta, Georgia, which resulted in the deaths of student-athletes David Betts (Bryan, Ohio); Scott Harmon (Elida, Ohio); Cody Holp (Verona, Ohio); and Tyler Williams (Lima, Ohio); as well as the bus driver and his wife. Twenty-eight others were injured. Another student-athlete, Zachary Arend (Oakwood, Ohio), died a week later from the accident.
Courageously, the 2007 team returned to the baseball diamond 28 days after the fatal incident and went on to finish a shortened season. The Hall of Fame committee voted unanimously to nominate and honor the 2007 team as this year’s sole inductee in its first year of eligibility. All members of the team, including Zachary Arend, David Betts, Scott Harmon, Cody Holp and Tyler Williams, as well as all managers and coaches were inducted as a team.
Many players from the 2007 team, along with their families, were in attendance, including the families of Zachary, David, Scott, Cody and Tyler, for Saturday night’s induction ceremony. The night’s speakers included then and current Head Baseball Coach James Grandey, Bluffton University President Dr. James Harder and Athletics Director Phill Talavinia.
President Harder spoke at length about the lasting impression the 2007 Beaver baseball team would go on to engrave on the university and its community. He noted that it was his first year serving as the university’s president when the accident occurred in Atlanta.
“As a group, this year’s hall of fame inductees have traveled a journey together that none would have wished, nor none would ever want to repeat. You did not choose that road, but traveled it as well as could ever be imagined under the circumstances,” Harder said. “You, and all of us at Bluffton University, can only carry memories, indelible memories, of five young men – teammates, students, friends, sons, grandsons, and brothers who are with us in spirit this evening as Hall of Fame inductees.”
One such memory that stuck with Harder was the team’s first game of that spring on March 30. He noted a crowd of approximately 2,000 fans and 100 television and newspaper reporters that were in attendance on a bright and unusually warm 70-degree day.
“The Beavers gave it there all, but came up on the short end of a 10-5 score against Mount Saint Joseph, but still scoring one run each in memory of Tyler, Cody, Scott, David and Zachary,” Harder said.
Harder pointed out two remarkable outcomes of the 2007 season that occurred later. The first was in 2010 when the 2007 team was recognized by the NCAA with the Inspiration Award, presented to a coach, administrator or athlete who, when confronted with a life-altering situation, showed perseverance, dedication and determination and now serves as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others. The 2007 squad was the first entire team to be honored by the NCAA with this award.“By coincidence the presentation [of the Inspiration Award] occurred back in Atlanta at the NCAA’s annual convention in 2010. As an NCAA member President, I was privileged to present the award that evening to coach Grandey and Cody McPherson, who was still part of the squad in 2010, and accepted it on behalf of the entire 2007 team,” Harder said.
The second mark left by the 2007 team came in the form of a new federal law yielded in 2012 – the Motor Coach Enhanced Safety Act, introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown. This legislation required lap and shoulder belts in all new motor coaches beginning in November 2016.
“As of three months ago, the law is finally fully in effect,” Harder said.
The law also requires stricter qualifications for bus drivers and more stringent vehicle inspections, he added.
“Required seatbelt equipment in buses have been the goal of transportation advocates for many, many years but without success. It was the Bluffton bus accident and particularly the persistent advocacy of John Betts and others in working with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and other legislatures that finally helped make this safety equipment requirement a reality nationwide. This too is a legacy of this team’s tragedy experience in 2007,” Harder said.
John Betts, who was in attendance for the hall of fame ceremony on behalf of his son David Betts, was able to make good on his promise that he made to a group of players he visited in the hospital shortly after the accident in Atlanta.
“I told them that something positive would come out of this tragedy because David was such a good person. So, I promised them something would happen in a positive manner. Many things did, not the least of which was the motor coach legislation because the boys that died, if there were seatbelts [available] and were wearing their seatbelts, they would be alive today. They did not have the choice of a seatbelt. I hope that it will save lives in the future, and I believe that it will,” Betts said. “That’s probably the biggest positive that came out of that, and things like this [the Hall of Fame ceremony] where people are moving on, not forgetting, but knowing that you need to move forward.”
The concept of moving forward happened to be the theme of coach Grandey’s address to the audience. While he said, for himself and many others in attendance, there will never be any “getting over” the bus crash and the aftermath that followed; however, there is “moving on.”
“Words cannot describe how proud I am of all of you that were on the 2007 team. You are an unbelievable group of young men. You have all moved forward under unimaginable circumstances for any member of any team. You should be proud of that. You should be proud of where you are and where your families are, and I’m proud of you,” Grandey said. “If life teaches us anything, it’s that no matter how unfair, how cruel, how painful, how crushing of a loss we were given, we must go forward. Life does not stop.”
Grandey thanked a wide number of people, such as family, friends, faculty and assistant coaches, who all came to his aide or shared kindness during the days, weeks and years following the accident. Last, but not least, he shared his gratitude to the relatives in attendance of those that did not survive the crash.
“I certainly want to thank the families of David, Tyler, Zachary, Scott and Cody for your love and kindness that you’ve showed to me over the years. I think it’s a coach’s worst nightmare to lose a player at one time, let alone five in a very short period of time. Your love and kindness, I’m still not sure I deserve, so thank you for your support,” Grandey said.
Once Grandey concluded his thoughts, all members of the 2007 baseball team were given a plaque, signifying each player and coach’s entrance into the BU Athletics Hall of Fame.
A member of the 2007 team, Tim Berta, who sustained severe injuries in the crash, served as a student-coach for the Beaver baseball team upon his recovery. Before the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Berta had a chance to visit with some old team members and was able to reflect on a few good memories.
“One of the players told me, that I had forgotten about, that we ran a drill where it was working on taking a pitch for a base … so you would turn your shoulder and take the pitch and someone told me I was the one that would throw the balls to hit them, and that made me laugh,” Berta said. “It was terrific to re-connect with some of those guys and laugh with them, but it was hard, at the same time, because I know some teammates that I played catch with are not here, so, it’s bittersweet.”
After his time at Bluffton, Berta went on to serve as an assistant baseball coach at Lourdes University (Sylvania, Ohio) for four years, from 2011-2015. Currently, he is working as a substitute teacher at Summerfield High School near his home in Petersburg, Michigan. Entering a collegiate hall of fame is an honor Berta could hardly fathom, even with the plaque in hand.
“If they would have told me at the beginning of my career you will be inducted into the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame, I would have said, ‘I’m going to have to work real hard, then.’ I never imagined that I would be able to work as hard as I did to learn to fight, to walk, to talk, to breathe on my own,” Berta said.
While entering the Hall of Fame was indeed a thrilling moment for him, and for his fellow team members, there were still mixed emotions in the end.
“I’m honored and incredibly grateful to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But, it’s bittersweet because there are members of this team that are not here tonight. My heart aches for their families [here],” Berta said.
Berta shared a couple thoughts that he wrote down, and were recited by President Harder earlier in the evening. In fact, the note served as the parting message that Harder delivered to the audience on Saturday night. Berta’s words read as follows: The lesson I take from the 2007 baseball team is this – regardless of the challenges ahead of you or the odds stacked against you, do not quit. I remember each of the lives of Zachary, David, Scott, Cody and Tyler by doing my best to live my life to honor them and what they meant to everyone.