Matt's Memo: Phoenix teens bond in wake of football player's death

Phoenix administrators. Superintendent, coach and principal.

The line will snake out the door this afternoon at the Foster Funeral Home in Fulton. Ushers will have tissues ready. Groups of teens will hug each other and hold hands. For many this will be their first wake. It is their first brush with death. Their friend and classmate, 16 year old Ridge Barden is gone. A routine football play brough an innocent and surprising ending to the budding life of a young man who stands as a giant in so many ways.

These resilient young people have already found ways to remember Ridge. They have worn the orange and black of the Phoenix Firebirds. They have begun to plan a fundraiser to help his family. They plan to reach out to their football playing opponents at Homer High School who have also felt the sting of grief as the opponent of Phoenix the night of the tragedy.

These acts of a generation just coming into its own are shaped by the examples they have followed. Some of those examples have surely come from the fine homes in this Oswego County school district, but the more obvious mentoring has come from the school administrators and football coach Jeff Charles. There is no greater challenge for an educator of teens than to be thrust into the role of consoler to the unconsolable.

The mission of these educators is to teach, challenge and grow students from a period of adolescence into early adulthood. Surely, as this class looks back there will be no greater lessons learned than the ones discovered this week. These students have felt the gut wrenching pain of loss. They have experienced the anger and confusion over the mystery of death. They have bonded with one another as they have laughed, reflected and reminisced on the life of a stellar student who had just made his first start on the varsity line.

As these teens weep through their first wake and funeral they should remember all who are with them. Their administrators, teachers and coaches. Their family, friend and community. And, their gentle friend Ridge. He gave it his all right through the final play.

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