Williamsport Tragedy and Triumph
David Warrenfeltz is in his second year as head coach of the Williamsport High School baseball team. At 25 years old, he is the youngest varsity coach in Washington County, perhaps in Maryland.
But he was the right man for the job. David experienced heartache three years ago when his boyhood friend and battery mate, Nick Adenhart, was killed by a drunk driver in California the night of his best performance as a promising young major league pitcher with the Los Angeles Angels. So, maybe he was better prepared than most to lead the team after what happened late this season.
Coach Warrenfeltz’ Wildcats team was struggling along this spring, losing as many as they won. There was some talent, sure, momentary glimpses of excellence that gave the team hope. Their star pitcher, senior Brendon Colliflower, was the Washington County Pitcher of the Year as a junior, and was having a solid senior season.
But what happened the night of May 5 changed not only the Williamsport baseball team, but the very fabric of a community. After the senior prom, young Colliflower departed a restaurant in Shepherdstown (WV) with his girlfriend, fellow graduating senior Samantha (Sam) Kelly, an accomplished athlete in her own right in tennis and volleyball. They were on their way to Kelly’s home, apparently to change clothes before attending an after-prom party.
Nobody knows what happened for sure, and although alcohol was not a factor, authorities say their vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed. It came around a curve and the driver, young Colliflower, lost control, careening off the road and striking a tree. Both were declared dead at the scene.
Often, in tragedies like this, communities come together to weep, mourn and when strong enough, to celebrate the lives of those lost.
Williamsport was no exception. If you take a look at on-line tributes to Sam and Brendon, you will see that the words and emotions expressed about these two young people were genuine and heartfelt. Stories were related about experiences many had with each of them that made it clear these compliments were not revisionist history. Many wrote of how impressed they were with Brendon, the 17 year old of cheery disposition, who had been a mentor to many others in both sports and school. These two honor roll students were well liked and respected by their fellow students, as well as other members of the community, adults and children alike.
One tribute stands out. Brunswick girls tennis coach Lee Zumbach wrote: “Sam played her final tennis match at Brunswick on Friday and had a hard fought victory. When our player Emily came off the courts she commented on how well she played and how hard it was to beat her as she was one of the most pleasant girls she has ever played on the courts. She constantly congratulated Emily on her own good play and never got discouraged with her own mistakes. She played with grace, win or lose, and we will always remember her for the great talent she was and how she handled herself on the tennis courts in representing her team and school. I was proud to have shaken her hand at her last tennis match.”
When young lives end too early, it is not uncommon for heartfelt emotions to overwhelm those affected, and restrict their ability to function. The Williamsport baseball team had every reason to crumble. After all, this was a perfect example that there is so much more to life than sports.
But something unexpected and beautiful happened. The team came together and shared a commitment to keep the season going as long as possible, as a tribute to both Brendon and Sam. Their mantra was to “take the next step, one day at a time, to keep the season alive.”
Of course, the best way to do that in the state tournament is to win….and win they did. They entered the state tournament as the eighth seed in the West region, but the Wildcats kept winning, often against teams with much better records and higher seeds. They upset the top seed in their region, Liberty, along the way and, against all odds, somehow managed to win four straight games and the regional title, advancing to the state semifinals for the 12th time in team history.
Williamsport lost in the semis last year and also in 2004 when Mr. Adenhart, their star pitcher and future big leaguer, was firing 95 mile per hour fastballs to now-Coach Warrenfeltz, his catcher from little league through high school.
The team was pumped last Tuesday night to try to extend the season even further, but the elements interrupted, and two consecutive rainouts postponed the semifinal game against Loch Raven to Thursday night, this time under the lights at University of Maryland Shipley Field.
At least they would get a chance to play in a big stadium, something the players may never get a chance to do again. Somehow they prevailed again, 3-0, advancing to the 2A state finals game for the chance to win only the second championship in school history since the inception of the four class system. This team, that finished 9-9 in the regular season, was on a mission, but they would face a stalwart opponent in Patuxent, which advanced to the final with a record of 19-4.
The championship game was played on Saturday at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. To many it almost didn’t matter if they won, for this would be their last game together as teammates, win or lose. Either way, the team’s commitment to Brendon and Sam would be fulfilled, to play for them as long as they could.
Sometimes, miracles do happen. In an extra inning game, Williamsport defied the odds, and with the support of an entire community and many other observers behind them, prevailed over mighty Patuxent by a score of 2-1 on a walk off squeeze bunt in the bottom of the ninth.
The range of emotions was extreme. In the initial celebration, the players piled on each other once the winning run crossed the plate. As the realization set in of all that had happened in the past three weeks, voices cracked and tears flowed, especially when the players and coaches gathered with two of their biggest supporters in the stands, Brendon’s father and grandfather.
This baseball story was about so much more than baseball. No words were more appropriate than those spoken by Coach Warrenfeltz after their victory in the semis: “Our team has shown so much resiliency all year, on and off the field. I think at this point that any challenges we face on the baseball field are really small compared to what we’ve been through together.”
There were many players who contributed to this and all their tournament victories, but those same players would be first to tell you they won as a team, and everyone contributed in some way, big or small, noticed or not. They couldn’t guarantee wins for Brendon and Sam; they simply played as hard as they could. Because they did win, it is a David vs. Goliath story for the ages…..but because Williamsport came together as a team and community, it is a story of passion and commitment that will last just as long.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, Mark left the state after college and has bounced between the left and right coasts, and a few places in between, settling in Ijamsville in 2001. Married to his wallflower wife, Maude, and raising three incredibly obedient teenagers, Mark has an engineering background but has been in the corporate real estate and facilities management fields for 25 years. He uses his abundant spare time to coach youth sports, cut the lawn. He reads a lot, aspiring to become a little less dumb every day.