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