On Saturday at DuVal High School, no one on either sideline needed to be reminded of the fragility of youth.
Certainly not the family of David Butler, the Tigers sophomore who died Oct. 13 in a car accident, and certainly not Fairmont Heights Coach Stefan Gansert, an emergency medical technician who responded to the accident that killed Butler and whose Hornets were DuVal's opponents Saturday.
But the first quarter was not even over before Gansert found himself responding to another emergency, this time helping a team of paramedics load one of his players, senior Dijon Pinkney, into an ambulance. The defensive back had broken an ankle helping to make a tackle, an injury that left him screaming in agony and prompted an on-duty Prince George's County police officer to turn away and wince.
"I told Dijon to let it all out and don't worry about it; I knew he was in pain," said Gansert, a full-time EMT in Fairfax County. "I said, 'This is no injury you have got to be tough about; we all understand why you are crying.' "
The same words could have been directed to the hurting DuVal football family. Butler, 15, was on the verge of making his first varsity start at quarterback when the car in which he was riding on his way home from practice collided with another vehicle.
"His spirit is here, but his physical presence isn't, and that's the big thing," said DuVal senior quarterback Tawan Smith, who had been in competition with Butler for the starting position. "I always looked forward to seeing David every Saturday morning."
On this Saturday, reminders of DuVal's loss were everywhere: the flag at half-mast, the moment of silence after the game, the television crew sent to cover a game pitting teams with three wins between them.
Fairmont Heights won the game, 28-0, but for Butler's parents, Keith and Bridgette, the result was less important than the act of playing. Saturday's game was DuVal's first since the accident.
"David was the one who was always upbeat -- no matter how bad things got he was still upbeat . . . always smiling, always got a joke for the family," said Keith Butler, who addressed the Duval players before the game. "This was inspirational, I mean, it's a great honor to be out here with everybody. . . . I've talked with teachers, principals and I addressed the team before they went out."
Gansert, too, addressed the teams after the game, as the Tigers and Hornets shook hands at midfield before gathering for a prayer and a cheer for David.
"I'm not just teaching these kids the game of football anymore, I'm teaching them the game of life," said Gansert, who also responded to an accident that took the life of a T.C. Williams student four days after Butler's death. "The last couple of days I've been through some tragedies with teenagers, and I tell my kids be responsible -- know who is driving and understand that it only takes a second for you to lose your life."