Rewind: Local sports bring a sense of normalcy to Upshur County following Sago Mine tragedy

Sago memorial. PHOTO SUBMITTED

BUCKHANNON — As the reality of the Sago Mine tragedy began to set in for Upshur County residents, local sports played a big role in the communities healing process. Sports provided a sense of normalcy amidst a situation that was anything, but normal. After the events of January 2, 2006, when a blast trapped 13 miners in the local Sago Mine for nearly two days, leaving just one survivor; the Upshur County community was gripped with a kind of grief it had never previously known. Local sports gave those in the community either directly or indirectly impacted by the tragedy, a chance to divert their attention from their heavy hearts even for just a short time. While attending a local game, might not seem like much of a respite for those that lost loved ones to the mining disaster, local sports teams gave a reeling community something to rally around when they desperately needed one.

An ESPN the Magazine online article covered from shortly after the tragedy in 2006, detailed how an early February wrestling meet in 2006 was much more significant than it would seem. On a blue mat laid across a hardwood basketball court, the wrestlers representing Buckhannon-Upshur High School stretched and grappled, getting loose for their upcoming dual, while the visiting opponent North Marion squad jogged laps around the mat. This was the first sanctioned athletic event in the community following the Sago Mine disaster. As the high school wrestlers prepared themselves to compete, the real story is in the stands locals packed the bleachers, a community coming together as one. Many in attendance donned a coal black ribbon to honor the 12 men that lost their lives in the Sago Mine tragedy. This gesture showed the families of Thomas P. Anderson, 39; Alva Martin Bennett, 50; Jim Bennett, 61; Jerry Groves, 57; George Hamner Jr., 54; Terry Helms, 50; Jesse L. Jones, 44; David Lewis, 28; Martin Toler, 50; Fred Ware Jr., 59; Jack Weaver, 52; and Marshall Winans, 50 that this tight-knit community was behind them and fully supported them. 

Almost everybody in the community was impacted by the Sago Mine disaster in some way, shape or form. With the community suffering in front of the eyes of the entire nation, local sports didn’t just provide an escape for a community trying to process an unfathomable tragedy, they also aided student-athletes struggling to process their own grief, giving them an outlet to channel their emotions into something positive. An event of this magnitude brought things into perspective for many residents of Upshur County, drawing people together, bonding them over the shared experiences of loss and grief. It is interesting how sports have a varied impacted on our society depending on the event’s context, in this instance local sports played a huge role in the healing process. At a time when a mere game or wrestling meet seemed insignificant compared to the real-world implications the tragedy carried, it helped the community regain some semblance of normalcy in a time of great uncertainty, chaos, and pain. Stories like these are what makes sports great. To look at sports as just a collection of games, keeping track of stats and win/loss records is short-sighted. At their best, sports are a collection of teaching moments pushing competitors to face adversity, grow, and adapt to a variety of situations. The outcome of the wrestling match was insignificant, but the larger impact that it had on Upshur County is still remembered today, many years after the fact. 

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