Coaching through the tears

Posted: February 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm


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By Bill Vander Weele
Sidney Herald
Published on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 6:59 PM MST

It was probably the longest day of Staci Lange-Rice’s life. And the Savage girls basketball coach ended it by trying to lead the Warriors at a game.

On the morning of Jan. 7, Lange-Rice, who is a Sidney High School teacher, was volunteering at First Lutheran Church, Savage, by making meatballs for its annual lutefisk meal. She then received a call that fellow teacher and close friend Sherry Arnold was missing.

Lange-Rice and Arnold had built a solid friendship teaching math at Sidney High School for the past nine years.

“What drew us so close was Sherry’s and mine interests were so much the same,” Lange-Rice said. “Socially, it was always about our kids �“ we were always calling or texting what our kids were doing.”

They also experienced similar backgrounds. “We talked about our dads and their old ways of doing things. And we would chuckle about it,” Lange-Rice said. “Just finding peace out there (in the country) �“ there’s not as much stress or deadlines. There’s a lot that’s true about animals calming your nerves.”

Despite not knowing them well, Arnold always wanted to know about Savage’s girls basketball squad. “My team was always a huge interest of hers. She always asked and knew them by name.”

So on that tragic Saturday, Lange-Rice, in clothes that still stunk from her church’s raw meatballs, joined hundreds of other area residents to search for the missing teacher.

“By noon in my mind, I knew it wasn’t good,” Lange-Rice said.

The Savage native kept searching until late afternoon when she drove quickly back to her house and got dressed for her team’s game in Fairview.

“Fairview was very good to me. They showed a lot of caring and sympathy,” Lange-Rice remembers of that night. “There was a lot of concern on their faces.”

At one point during the game, she was unable to finish a thought during a time-out, but her daughter/player Bridger Rice completed the sentence �“ knowing her mother’s mind.

“It was one of the most difficult jobs I had to do,” Lange-Rice noted. “I knew Sherry would have wanted me to be there at my kids’ activities. Those times are so precious to a mom. My girls (Savage’s players) were very strong. They were very supportive and they took care of me.”

After the contest, a loss for the record, there were a lot of tears shed in Savage’s locker room.

“We were all very strong until after the game,” Lange-Rice remembers. “My feelings caught up to me at the end. I was able to grieve then and my girls were with me.”

The following Friday, it was announced that the missing teacher was believed to be dead. Lange-Rice was on the bench that night in Brockton, but assistant Becky Lyons handled the coaching duties. Lange-Rice, who was driven to the game by co-teacher and friend Mary Pfau, received hugs from referees, Brockton officials and other friends that evening.

Although Lange-Rice does her best to coach the Warriors, she admits her head sometimes isn’t totally on basketball. “It’s something that never leaves my mind,” Lange-Rice said of losing a friend.

Having the responsibilities of mother, teacher and coach hasn’t been easy. “It was hard, but I was always busy. I think that helped me keep my mind off of it. But then I had a lack of sleep because my mind couldn’t stop thinking.”

She and Sherry’s husband, Gary, keep in close contact. She’s established good relationships with some of Sherry’s other close friends. But pain exists daily. “It’s hard to walk by her room and see someone else parked in her parking space.”

She’s thankful for having her team with her during these challenging times.

“I think they’ve bonded into better people and a stronger team. They’re thankful for what they have,” the coach said. “The biggest gift is that they now look out for each other. They make sure no one needs to walk home or will be home alone.”

She notes that she has known three of the players for at least 13 years each. “This team is very close and near and dear to my heart. Their care and compassion was very supportive. I think when you show that, you become so much closer to everybody around you.”

editor@sidneyherald.com

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Coaching through the tears

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February 17th, 2012 at 4:09 pm

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