Just outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a temporary memorial was set up shortly after the Feb. 14 shooting that claimed the lives of 14 students and 3 faculty members. It provided an opportunity for the school and its community to not only pay tribute to the victims, but also offer support and comfort for one another.
On Feb. 25, just 11 days after the shooting, the Stoneman Douglas Eagles boys hockey team won the Statewide Amateur Hockey League of Florida championship, qualifying them for the Chipotle-USA Hockey High School Nationals, March 22-25 in Plymouth, Minnesota.
The day after the title game, the 17 active players met at the school and placed their championship medals on the memorial.
“That was all the kids’ doing; they did that on their own,” said team manager Bonnie Hauptman, whose two sons, Matthew and Adam, play on the team.
Matthew, a senior, recalled how the team came to realize the number of players for the championship game equaled the number of victims who died in the shooting.
“We were in the locker room, just doing a count to see how many guys we were going to have,” he said. “One of the players realized we had 17. Everyone just put two and two together that it was exactly what was meant to happen.”
The tournament didn’t start out that way for the Eagles, who lost their first three games, making them the No. 4 seed in the four-team bracket. After the third loss, the players held a meeting to regain their focus.
“Nobody wanted to go 0-4 and go home,” Adam Hauptman recalled. “We knew we had to do something to bring positivity back. That was the only way we could think about doing it.
In the semifinal game, the Eagles upset top-seeded East Lake 3-1 to put themselves in the championship against Tampa Jesuit. In another ironic twist, Matthew scored an empty net goal with 17 seconds left to put the game out of reach.
“I didn’t even know that it was 17 seconds left until after [the game],” he said. “When my mom confirmed it on the score sheet, I was just in shock.”
In the first period of the championship game, Stoneman Douglas jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead, then held off Tampa Jesuit for a 7-4 victory. Both Hauptman boys played a key role in the win. Adam recorded a hat trick, while Matthew and teammate Matthew Horowitz scored two goals apiece. After all that had happened over the last month, the accomplishment was especially rewarding.
“The last few seconds of the game, I was on the bench,” Matthew Hauptman recalled. “Once the clock hit 30 seconds, I started jumping up and down with all the boys, just going crazy. I already had my helmet taken off. Once [the clock] hit 10, we were just screaming. Once the buzzer went off, we all jumped over the nets and sprinted into the corner where our goalie was.”
The tragedy had a direct impact on two of the team’s junior varsity players. One lost his sister, while another was hospitalized after being grazed by a couple of bullets. Bonnie Hauptman was near the school when the shooting began.
“I was on the road on the side of the school, waiting in line to pick up my younger son who had a doctor’s appointment, so I heard everything happening,” she recalled. “Fortunately, both of my kids were fine. They were not in that particular building where the shooting occurred.”
The tragedy was still heavy on everyone’s mind as the state tournament approached. Players were given the option of playing or staying home. To a man, they voted to play, for their school and the community.
“I don’t think anyone had in mind that they didn’t want to go,” Adam said. “Every kid felt pretty much the same. It was either going to be that everyone said yes or no. Everyone wanted to get out and bring something back to celebrate with.”
For his part, Matthew isn’t thinking much about any added responsibility of being a feel-good story by winning nationals.
“I’m leaning more towards the experience of being at the national championship, having the experience and competing to win, and not so much on what we’re going to bring back home,” he said. “It’s definitely in my mind, but I’m more focused on the hockey.”
For a school and community whose wounds are still fresh from what happened on Valentine’s Day, the road to nationals for the team is an inspirational example of courage and perseverance, regardless of what ultimately happens on the ice.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc