Wednesday should have been a day of rest for Red Lion Area Senior High School's football players. Instead, it became a day of mourning for two of their own.
Head coach Jesse Shay called in the players for a special meeting at the high school about students Nicholas Mankin, 16, and Stone Hill, 17, killed Tuesday night when the minivan they were in crashed into a utility pole in Lower Chanceford Township.
"With social media, nothing stays secret very long," Shay said. "But we wanted to make sure (players) were getting correct information and not just rumors."
Also, he said, it was important to make sure players understood some important, albeit painful, life lessons.
"It was the toughest thing I've ever had to do," Shay said. "Those young men walked in and tried to keep a brave face because they think that's what they're supposed to do."
But the adults gathered to meet with them — including Shay, high-school principal Mark Shue, athletic director Arnie Fritzius as well as guidance counselors and the school psychologist — showed players that's not the case, according to Shay.
"It doesn't make them less of a football player or less of a man because they're crying," he said. "We talked today about the need to grieve together. You don't grieve by yourself. You lean on people."
No shame in crying: Shay led by example.
"I spoke first and got choked up and started to cry," he said. "When they saw their head coach cry, and the principal and (other adults), they knew it was OK, and that they can show emotion."
The football players are a tight-knit group, according to Shay, so they can act as their own support system.
"Frankly, that's what's important about high-school athletics," he said. "It's not the wins and losses. It's being part of a group of 65 people you can call brother and lean on during tough times."
The crash: Stone, of Thompson Road in Lower Chanceford Township, was driving the minivan at a high rate of speed shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday when he lost control in the 200 block of Slab Road, according to the York County Coroner's Office. The location isn't far from the intersection of Thompson Road.
He and Nick, of New Bridgeville Road in Chanceford Township, died instantly in the crash, after which the minivan burst into flames, officials said.
State police have so far not issued a press release about the double-fatal crash.
Both Nick and Stone — who were close friends — would have been seniors in the fall, playing for the varsity football team, according to their coach.
Stone was a potential third-year starter and played middle linebacker, Shay said. The teen also played baseball.
Nick was a potential second-year starter and played offensive guard, the coach said.
'Great people': About 50 players attended Wednesday's specially called meeting to talk about Nick and Stone. They normally meet Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to do condition and to lift weights, according to Shay.
"It's great that we're taking the time to talk about the lives these young men lived. But I think we're missing the boat if we just talk about them as football players," Shay said. "They were fantastic friends, they were wonderful teammates and they were great people."
Other students looked up to them, for different reasons, according to Shay.
"For Stone, it was his work ethic," the coach said. "If you're a potential three-year starter, the younger kids want to emulate you. Stone knew that and worked incredibly hard (to set an example). He wanted to show them what it takes."
Stone also played varsity baseball for Red Lion and was athletically gifted, according to his coach.
Gifted artist: And Nick wasn't afraid to be his own person, Shay said.
"Nick was an incredibly gifted art student as well as being a ferocious competitor on the field. He had other interests, but he still loved football," the coach said. "He loved his teammates."
Stone could be quiet and reserved until he got to know you, Shay said, while Nick was sociable from the outset.
'Devilish grin': The coach recalled the "devilish grin" that sometimes graced Nick's face.
"There are no words to describe this tragedy," Red Lion Area School Superintendent Scott Deisley said in an email Wednesday.
Deisley said the high school had counselors on hand Wednesday and will have them at the school again Thursday for students who would like to speak with them.
The district sent out an email to the entire student body about the deaths, warning they could have a "profound effect" on classmates and friends. The message urged parents to speak with their children about what happened, and to encourage them to discuss their feelings.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.