Grayling MI is a community of only 1,800 people located approximately 200 miles North of Detroit. Not a spot you would probably even know exists or know that there might be anything extraordinary about the people in that community or on their high school’s golf team. But there is SO much that stands out. Let’s tell the story so we all can be inspired and learn from their experience.
On April 29, 2013, the Grayling golf team was in a van headed to a golf tournament at Grand Traverse Resort. Unfortunately, they never made it to their final destination. They collided with another driver and the devastating after effects of that were as follows: The other driver’s 27 year old daughter died, the Grayling High School’s 31 year old golf coach and their 18 year old senior leader died as well. 7 passengers were injured, 4 of them critically (all golf team members). The injuries ranged from a fractured and crushed clavicle and punctured lung, to a pelvis broken in 6 places for another, to one team member, Jake Hinkle, suffering a traumatic brain injury. AWFUL. SAD. DEFEATING. But not to this team or the other team, their community.
ONE WEEK after this tragic accident the remaining 11 golfers, their parents and the school decided to honor those injured or killed by not giving up on the season. Their next tournament, one mile down the road from the accident site, had 5 new starters. To quote one of them, “We ain’t going to win, but we’re going out there. We’re ALL part of this team”. They finished the season, went through the first step of possibly qualifying for state by showing up and competing at the district meet. They didn’t advance, but they were there. Prior to the accident they were the #10 ranked team in the state of Michigan Division 3 rankings. Now…no shot but as they said, they showed up!
And what happened from there? The next year, in April 2014, they competed in the exact same tournament that had been the destination the day of the terrible accident. And they got better as each meet passed. ALL the previously injured players returned and competed, while they healed. Then the district tournament came and this time they surprised everyone and finished 3rd. This qualified them for regionals, where a top three finish would get them all the way to state! They performed well but were just edged out for the third place trophy, finishing fourth. But THE most amazing story of all, Jake Hinkle(pictured below in 2013 while still in the hospital), qualified as an individual for state!! Amazing! To quote his parents, “One year ago the goal was to wake up and know what city he was in and to be able to hop 25 feet with the help of his walker”. Now, after a traumatic brain injury and a totally shattered femur…he was going to the state finals!
In 2015, according to the documentary I watched, they had a record turn out this Spring for the golf team. More than they ever have had in their history and almost more than showed up for football. Quite a turn around!
So, what did this team and town show that I see in really engaged teams?
- The will to survive/evolve/keep moving forward despite the occasional challenges
- The need and willingness for other players to step up, not just the stars
- Support of each other
- The ability to COMMUNICATE, no matter how tough the topic