Bluffton University Observes Ten-Year Anniversary of Baseball Team Bus Crash

by Austin Arnold   On a cold and windy Thursday morning, March 2, Bluffton University students, alumni, faculty, staff, as well as members of the Bluffton community, gathered together for a memorial service at the Circle of Remembrance in observance of the tenth anniversary of the 2007 baseball team’s bus accident that occurred in Atlanta, Georgia.
   Ten years ago, the charter bus carrying the BU baseball team fell from an overpass as the team was making its way to Florida for spring training. The accident resulted in the deaths of five student-athletes, Zachary Arend of Oakwood, Ohio; David Betts of Bryan, Ohio; Scott Harmon of Elida, Ohio; Cody Holp of Verona, Ohio; and Tyler Williams of Lima, Ohio; along with the bus driver and his wife, Jerome and Jean Niemeyer. Twenty-eight others were injured including James Grandey, head coach of the Beaver baseball team.
   The Circle of Remembrance, which was built in honor of the 2007 team and in memory of the five student-athletes who died following the accident, was the site for a short service of solemn reflection and recollection.
   “This Circle of Remembrance, right here, was dedicated and opened nine years ago at the first anniversary of the accident. It is a wonderful and fitting memorial, full of symbolic meaning in many different ways. I frequently observe people observing this memorial at any time of the year,” Bluffton University President James Harder said.
   In the center of the Circle of Remembrance is a pedestal with the sculpture “Touching Home” created by Gregg Luginbuhl, professor emeritus of art, who passed this fall.
   “I know he would have dearly wanted to be here today,” Harder noted.
   Much like the Circle of Remembrance memorial, the surviving members of the 2007 baseball team have a profound impact on the university and its community. They serve as a model of tremendous courage and bravery as they were able to carry on following incredibly difficult times. In fact, just two weeks ago, the entire 2007 team was inducted into the Bluffton University Athletics Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. This honor was bestowed upon them because of the team’s collective strength in response to the accident, including completing a shortened 2007 baseball season.
   “The experience of the 2007 baseball team became a collective journey for this community and the account of that remarkable journey has become inseparable from the identity and history of this 117-year-old university,” Harder said.
   Senior pitcher of the current Beaver baseball team, Austin Every, was also in a state of reflection along with 150-plus people in attendance at Thursday’s ceremony. He recalled four years prior, in his own life, how he wound up finding a home at Bluffton.
   “When I started my search for colleges, I found myself across the state in this little town of Bluffton. During a two-and-a-half hour drive, my mom pondered why Bluffton seemed so familiar. She finally remembered and told me the Bluffton University baseball team was involved in a bus accident in 2007,” Every recalled.
   Once his mom reminded him of it, Every said he remembered seeing the events of the accident on ESPN.
   “As an 11-year-old boy, I was unable to understand the magnitude of such a tragedy. I don’t know why we are tested with these trials or tested with these times of sorrow. But, I do know that God put us in these places for a reason. That’s why I believe I am here today.  My first visit here to Bluffton changed my life, and I know for all of you, it did the same,” Every said.
   Every went on to say that he has thought a great deal as he and his fellow senior teammates begin their final season in a Bluffton uniform.  He shared some of those thoughts with the crowd that was huddled around the memorial adjacent to the university’s baseball field.
   “We get to play baseball in a beautiful Memorial Field, every practice and every home game. We don’t take this for granted. We fully understand the loss and pain behind the benefits these facilities offer,” Every said. “Our facilities are taken care of every day by the most dedicated coach I’ve ever played for, coach Grandey.”
   Calling upon some of the statements made by President Harder at the Hall of Fame ceremony for the 2007 team, Every echoed the fact that Grandey could have left Bluffton, and it would have been completely understandable for everyone involved.
   “But he stayed and built this program to new standards. He’s a husband, a father of two daughters, and a coach to about 50 sons each year. He’s our leader, and I’ve never been more honored to call anyone else my coach,” Every said.
   In closing, Every pointed out a few traditions the 2017 team will and have been partaking in throughout this season in an effort to honor the 2007 team.
   The first of which, at various points of the season, the Beavers will wear special black jerseys that are near replicas to the jerseys that were provided by Nike after the accident in 2007, as much of the equipment was damaged or destroyed in the crash.
   The second tradition will involve this season’s caps, as well. Every noted the team received its new caps for the season just two days before the ten-year anniversary ceremony, and he found inspiration when a teammate made a tribute right away with his new hat.
   “Last night, I noticed fellow senior Dyson Bowman write on the bill of his hat, ‘we remember’ and the numbers 3, 4, 17, 18 and 19. My fellow teammates and I will be doing the same thing as we will be playing in their memory,” Every stated.
   Finally, Every said that he and all his teammates will make a lap around the Circle of Remembrance each day on their way to practice at Memorial Field.
   “We take on this daily ritual to say to Zachary, David, Scott, Cody and Tyler and the 2007 team, ‘we remember.’ We remember you played our positions, we remember you wore our numbers, we remember you are why we play this game,” Every said. “The 2007 team is more than alumni, they are a constant reminder to play every pitch, every out, every inning like it’s your last, because one day it will be.”