Twenty-five years after Fox River Grove crash, the healing continues

  • Cary-Grove High School girls volleyball coach Patty Langanis, third from left, and former Trojan players Kelly Speer Hoffman of the Class of 1996, left, Karen Naymola of the Class of 1999 and current Huntley girls volleyball coach, and Katie Scully Krysh of the Class of 1997, meet in the Cary-Grove gymnasium, recalling the 1995 volleyball game that was played two nights after the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash that claimed the lives of seven Cary-Grove students.

      Cary-Grove High School girls volleyball coach Patty Langanis, third from left, and former Trojan players Kelly Speer Hoffman of the Class of 1996, left, Karen Naymola of the Class of 1999 and current Huntley girls volleyball coach, and Katie Scully Krysh of the Class of 1997, meet in the Cary-Grove gymnasium, recalling the 1995 volleyball game that was played two nights after the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash that claimed the lives of seven Cary-Grove students. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Cary-Grove volleyball coach Patty Langanis talks with former player Katie Scully Krysh about the 25th anniversary of the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash and the volleyball game that took place two nights later. It was Langanis' first year as coach of the Trojans.

      Cary-Grove volleyball coach Patty Langanis talks with former player Katie Scully Krysh about the 25th anniversary of the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash and the volleyball game that took place two nights later. It was Langanis' first year as coach of the Trojans. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Cary-Grove High School girls volleyball coach Patty Langanis talks about the 25th anniversary of the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash and the volleyball game that took place two nights later.

      Cary-Grove High School girls volleyball coach Patty Langanis talks about the 25th anniversary of the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash and the volleyball game that took place two nights later. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Former Cary-Grove volleyball player Kelly Speer Hoffman, a 1996 graduate, talks with former coach Patty Langanis and other teammates about the 25th anniversary of the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash.

      Former Cary-Grove volleyball player Kelly Speer Hoffman, a 1996 graduate, talks with former coach Patty Langanis and other teammates about the 25th anniversary of the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Karen Naymola of the Cary-Grove Class of 1999 talks with former teammates about the 25th anniversary of the school bus/train crash.

      Karen Naymola of the Cary-Grove Class of 1999 talks with former teammates about the 25th anniversary of the school bus/train crash. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • On the 25th anniversary of the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash, Katie Scully Krysh, a 1997 Cary-Grove graduate, talks about being on the volleyball team that played two nights later and what it meant to the school.

      On the 25th anniversary of the Fox River Grove school bus/train crash, Katie Scully Krysh, a 1997 Cary-Grove graduate, talks about being on the volleyball team that played two nights later and what it meant to the school. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/25/2020 8:03 AM

There are days in life we all remember.

Oct. 27, 1995, is on my list.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That was the night, in my first year at the Daily Herald, I was assigned to cover Cary-Grove at Crystal Lake South in a girls volleyball regional championship match.

The game would be won by CL South, a team that went on to finish second in the Class AA state tournament.

The game was not what Oct. 27, 1995, was all about.

It was about a community coming together to heal.

Two days before that match, a train collided with a school bus in Fox River Grove, claiming the lives of seven teens and altering the lives of many more.

Four of those affected by that tragedy -- C-G head coach Patty Griffith Langanis, players from that team Katie Scully Krysh and Kelly Speer Hoffman, and current Huntley head coach Karen Liss Naymola, a freshman at Cary-Grove in 1995 -- sat down earlier this week to recall that night in the South gym. They did so amid a pandemic, so there were masks, no handshakes and no hugs.

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But there were some tears.

A safe place to be

Krysh, now a middle school teacher and former coach at McHenry, was a junior on that 1995 Trojans volleyball team. She recalled the surreal feeling around school in the aftermath of the crash, and how that volleyball game two days later began the healing process for so many.

"What I took from that night was that kids had somewhere to go," she said. "We were in school and there were reporters everywhere and everyone was sad because we lost kids just like us. Going to that volleyball game gave people somewhere to go. Being in that gym was a safe place where people weren't alone. It was somewhere to go to keep things a little more normal than our lives had become.

"It was a good place to start."

Hoffman, who lived in Fox River Grove at the time, recalled the crowd's reaction that night.

"I remember the standing ovation," she said. "We were the underdogs and just the fact that Cary-Grove showed up was a big moment for the school. Sports is one of those things that brings people together. It brought the team together and helped us move forward. I'm a 'Grover' so it hit me real hard. So many moments of what happened are ingrained in my mind and some are just a blur."

Young coach must lead

Langanis was in her first year as a teacher and coach at Cary-Grove in 1995, a 23-year old trying to carve her niche in a new community.

"You wanted to be a leader but I wasn't a leader yet," she said. "I felt like I wasn't ready to lead these kids through a tragedy I wasn't coping with well myself, but you had to be the leader. You had kids who were hurting and you don't know how to lead them. I think they led me. I'll never forget in that match there was some significant play where they all started celebrating and cheering and it felt normal for a second."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In the days and weeks after that match, Langanis recalled how much she missed being around her team whose season was over.

"I wanted to go to practice and be with the team," said the veteran coach who led the Trojans to the 2009 state championship. "You wondered if everything was going to be OK again. I couldn't comprehend how Cary-Grove would ever be normal again. It felt like for the rest of my career it was going to be a sad place. But it's a wonderful place ... such a special place."

Community as one

Naymola played volleyball for the Trojans but as a freshman was not on the 1995 varsity team, and didn't attend the game. But she lived through the tragedy with the rest of the community.

"The support from Day 1 from our community and the way our community came together ...," said Naymola, who has become great friends with Langanis over the years. "I can remember walking into the school lobby and it was filled with cards and flowers and (an) outpouring of love from all over the world.

"What we did to get through that time is something every one of my volleyball teams knows about. Knowing how suddenly things can happen that changes our lives forever, and to not take things for granted, and to live each day to the fullest. I know that's easy to say but until you've lived through something like that, you don't know."

To Krysh, the tragedy, and that volleyball game, changed her life.

"It changed our class, it changed our high school experience and it changed the rest of my life," Krysh said. "It changed how I coached, it changed how I teach and it changed how I raise my daughter and my son."

"(The game) was a big moment for our community," Langanis said. "Kids that were struggling to get out of bed saw their classmates who were putting themselves in a situation where they could probably fail. It was a great message to send to our community."

And 25 years later, the healing continues.

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