- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - They have all kinds of books for X’s and O’s.

And there are just as many filled with motivational sayings.

But there are no books, no clinics for coaches on how to deal with knee-buckling tragedy.

Gregg Wasson got the call at 12:21 a.m.

“I was in bed,” said the Harlowton-Ryegate girls basketball coach of that Sunday, Jan. 12, that turned into Monday, Jan. 13.

“It’s a shock. You don’t want to believe it. Your heart just sinks.”

Social media had been chirping earlier in the evening but nobody wanted to accept the news that was circulating around tight-knit communities.

Dusty Taber, a 17-year-old senior at Harlowton High School, died in a car wreck around 6 p.m. that evening. The accident occurred in Hill County on U.S. Highway 87 near Box Elder.

Taber was a high-energy point guard for the Engineers, a three-year starter, a top student and a leader on and off the court. She was also a five-event qualifier for the Class C state track and field meet.

Taber had a little extra motivation her final year, after missing most of last basketball season because of a knee injury.

“She was a competitor,” Wasson said. “Dusty was mentally tough, a quality person. She always brought that desire to be the best she could be and would do anything to reach that goal.

“Just a really neat kid.”

After hanging up the phone, Wasson called school superintendent Andy Begger and assistant coach Allison Jones to let them know what they would be dealing with.

He then had to tell his daughter Makenzie, Taber’s teammate and classmate, the news. Makenzie Wasson, Kylie Mahana and Taber had played basketball together since fourth grade.

“I had to get Makenzie and tell her. That was tough,” said the father. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child. No parent should ever have to go through that.

“It was a long, tough night.”

Even though there was no school that Monday, officials opened the doors to the students. About half the student body showed up, just to be together and share.

Many of the basketball players made their way to the Wasson house later that night. “Most of the kids didn’t want to be alone,” Wasson said. “Monday was a long, tough day.”

The players shared Dusty stories, some bringing laughter, some bringing tears.

The Engineers were 8-0 and hitting their stride after beating Park City and Roberts that weekend. The heady Taber - “She always knew where everybody was supposed to be,” said Wasson - had 14 points against Park City and 10 against Roberts.

“She just had that intensity and leadership,” the coach added. “Everybody looked to her on every play. Dusty knew our system and knew who needed to be where on the court.”

The team met on Tuesday.

And the coach who scripted plays and made adjustments during frantic timeouts was searching for the right words.

“You think about what you’re going to say to the kids,” admitted Wasson. “You’ve got to be extremely careful with what you say. Each individual kid handles it differently.”

So the coaches and players talked that afternoon.

“We didn’t practice at all,” Wasson said.

They mostly discussed how they would honor Taber.

The team purchased warm-up tops and came up with the inscription, “She lived it, she loved it, so we play it,” memorializing one of their senior captains. The players, and Harlowton-Ryegate boys players too, also wrote their own tributes to Taber with her No. 42 or her initials on their playing shoes.

There had been discussion about postponing that week’s games against Fromberg and Custer-Hysham. But the players and coaches agreed that’s not what the competitive Taber would have wanted.

“She probably would have been mad if we didn’t play,” said Wasson.

To get the Harlowton gymnasium ready for Taber’s funeral service on Sunday, Fromberg agreed to move Saturday’s scheduled game to Thursday.

After a somber practice Wednesday, the Engineers beat Fromberg 68-20 the next night.

“It was nice to play Thursday,” Wasson said. “We needed that game. The court, at least for a while, was a sanctuary for us.

“We needed to do something else to do besides being sad.”

The Engineers played against Custer-Hysham on Friday.

The sadness that enveloped the team started to show during the 170-mile trip to Hysham.

“That bus trip was tough,” said Wasson. “It was an emotional up-and-down week. I was surprised how difficult Friday was. When we got on the court, we were focused. That was good.”

The Engineers won, 62-40.

“We can’t say enough about the schools - Fromberg, Custer and Hysham - and the communities were tremendous to us. We truly appreciate that,” Wasson added.

And Taber was missed. Not just for her play on the court, but her leadership off it.

“It’s all tough,” acknowledged the coach. “The players have their own routines before games, maybe handshakes or chest bumps. It’s those little things.

“Everything is a first for us. The first practice without her. The first game without her. It’s a matter of getting through all those firsts.”

With eight games remaining in the regular season, Wasson and his staff will have to shuffle some personnel to fill the large void.

“You take the caliber of a player like Dusty, you just don’t replace her,” he said. “She handled things on the court for us. There will be an adjustment period the next three, four weeks.

“I’m sure we’ll be moving two steps forward and one step back as we go through this.”

Taber’s service was Sunday.

This week, there are games at Plenty Coups and at Broadview-Lavina.

And in each game, Taber will be listed in the scorebook.

Forever 42.

___

Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide