MINNEAPOLIS – On rare occasions, an event occurs that reminds us all that sports are just that – only sports.
Members of Michigan’s men’s track team were reminded of that last week (Feb. 23-24) at the Indoor Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis when Penn State athlete Kevin Dare died after falling in the pole vault.
On the first day of the meet at approximately 2:40 p.m., Dare landed on his head after one of his attempts. Medical trainers and EMT’s immediately rushed to his assistance.
He was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead as a result of fatal head trauma.
Many of the athletes on hand did not realize Dare was dead as he was being taken from the Minnesota Field House. It was not until later in the day that the teams were alerted of the news.
“There was shock and disbelief,” said Michigan senior sprinter Ike Okenwa. “No one expects to go to any track meet and see someone die.”
Big Ten officials decided last Saturday night to continue with the meet the following day with a memorial being held for Dare at noon. The following morning, though, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany announced that the meet was canceled and would not be rescheduled.
“I think when we slept on it, the discussions went the other direction,” Michigan coach Ron Warhurst said.
Many Michigan athletes had trouble knowing how to react. After spending an entire season preparing for one performance, that performance was suddenly stripped from them because of the death of someone they didn’t know.
“On one hand you didn’t know him and your life will go on the same as if it didn’t happen,” junior Jeremy Schneider said. “But on the other hand a million thoughts are running through your head.”
It was understandable after a promising start that some team members would be disappointed upon the cancellation.
“Some of them were disappointed (because) they were still fired up,” Warhurst said.
“When a young man prepares all year, there is no right or wrong way to react.”
The grim reality of the events that took place finally set in for those on hand at Dare’s memorial at noon with all the teams circling the track. As Dare’s poles were carried off the field, the impact of the moment hit many of the athletes.
“There were a bunch of mixed emotions, but they didn’t come out until the ceremony,” Okenwa said. “It’s strange to see 300 guys just bawling.”
Warhurst, a close friend of Penn State coach Harry Groves, was on the runway as Dare made his approach. He represented Michigan at Dare’s funeral in State College on Feb. 28.
Michigan’s women’s track coach, James Henry, said that while the death was tragic, it doesn’t necessarily translate into the needs for more safety equipment for pole vaulters.
“Some people would tell you that we need to have helmets on everybody,” Henry said. “But (the pole vault) is one of the safer events.
“More people have died running hurdles than on the pole vault.”
Michigan was in fifth place after the first day of competition due in large part to a victory from its distance medley team, composed of freshman Rondell Ruff, sophomores Andrew Ochs and Dan Cooke and freshman Nathan Brannen, which finished with a time of 9:49.62.
The Wolverines also had eight more athletes who had qualified for the finals on last Sunday’s scheduled competition.