Saturday was supposed to be a day of celebration for the Minerva (Ohio) High School cross country program.
As expected, the boys and girls teams won titles at the Division II district meet in Cambridge, Ohio. A postseason full of great potential was off to a fast start.
Instead of celebrating, the cross country program and Minerva community are in mourning.
Junior runner Owen Grubb died as a result of a tree accident following the boys race.
Grubb finished 10th in Saturday’s race in 17:26.05.
According to Cambridge police, the accident occurred on a walking trail across from the school campus where there is a footbridge that crosses a creek.
Capt. Dave Peoples said four Minerva runners, including Grubb, had ‘some type of tradition’ which involved throwing a log into the creek. It was unclear if it was a Cambridge-only tradition.
Peoples said the group didn’t find a log, so they tried to push a large decaying tree down into the creek. ‘It fell in a direction that we think they didn’t expect,’ he said.
Grubb tried but he could not escape the tree. Peoples said the tree struck Grubb in the head. He said no charges are expected and the incident is considered an accident.
‘A tragic accident,’ he said.
‘He’s a great kid and a great teammate,’ head coach Olivia Scott said Sunday while trying to fight back tears. ‘ … Our girls and boys, our team, they’re brothers and sisters. The girls team is just as devastated as the boys team.
‘Telling them last night is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.’
Scott said Grubb really evolved this year. He improved his time by a minute and has been among Minerva’s top five runners throughout the season. At last week’s Eastern Buckeye Conference Championships, he was the Lions’ No. 2 runner and finished ninth overall.
Grubb’s personality also had a big impact on the entire team.
‘He’s always so positive and has fun,’ Scott said. ‘He never really gets himself worked up.
‘He has this funny charisma about him. When he says my name, it’s just like ‘Yo, Coach.’ I’m just so sad I’m never going to hear that again.’
Scott told her team Saturday night the best thing they can do is be there for each other. They’re planning to spend Monday together in a room at school. Counselors also will be available.
‘They need to support each other,’ Scott said. ‘That’s the way Owen would want it.
‘It’s going to be hard these next couple of weeks with the end of the season. I know Owen would want his teammates to still run and run for him. I know they will do that.’
The cross country community as a whole is behind the Lions. Other schools from Stark County and beyond have reached out to offer their condolences. Some have encouraged their students and staff to wear red Monday in support of Minerva.
In memory of Grubb, the county’s cross country coaches are naming him their only runner of the week this week.
‘It’s comforting to know people are praying for us and trying to support our kids,’ Scott said. ‘I left to go to the hospital with Owen, but I know everybody at the district meet found out what was going on. All the teams got in a big circle together with our kids and parents and had a prayer circle for Owen.
‘I’ve been getting emails and messages from coaches and parents from other teams. The amount of community support in Minerva, I’ve had people reach out who want to do things.
‘We just have to take care of Owen’s family. That’s what we have to do now, too.’
In a statement released Monday, Minerva Local Schools Superintendent Gary Chaddock called Grubb ‘a bright light in our high school’ and an ‘exceptional student-athlete.’
‘We are keeping our entire school community close in our hearts during this time,’ Chaddock said. “Counselors have been brought to meet with his teammates and all district students and provide mental health support. We will work collaboratively with his family, friends, coaches and our cross country team to plan ways to honor his memory.
“We are grateful for the swift actions of first responders and to the entire Ohio cross country communityfor their continuing prayers for all of those who loved and will miss Owen.’
Canton Repository staff writer Benjamin Duer contributed to this story.