They came back yesterday morning. The kids, the coaches and the parents of the football player who died Monday at the very first practice of the season for Robinson High School.
It was hot, and it hurt, and there were tears. But they were there.
On hand were approximately 100 football prospects, Coach Ed Henry and his staff and Navy Cmdr. Robert E. and Carol Walsh, the parents of Jon Walsh, who collapsed and died on a day that started so bright and promising only to end in tragedy.
Some were asking why 16-year-old Walsh's life had ended so prematurely; others were trying to pick up the pieces.
"It was nobody's fault," said the boy's father, who with his wife spoke briefly with the players before yesterday morning's practice session. "It just happened."
"Jon was in the prime of his life," Carol Walsh said, crying. "He was a super kid and he would have wanted us to talk to you."
The 6-foot, 185-pound Walsh, an offensive lineman who was considered one of the best senior athletes at the school, was running around the track with teammate Rob Muzzio when he suddenly fell. Assistant Coach Lou Lepour, former manager of a Nautilus Fitness Center who recently completed a cardiopulmonary-resuscitation course, was the first person to reach Walsh. The youth was not breathing and Lepour immediately began administering CPR. The rescue-squad medics arrived five minutes later but Walsh failed to respond.
Walsh was taken to Commonwealth Doctors Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:45. The autopsy report on the cause of death will not be released until toxicological tests are completed. Those tests could take as long as a week.
The family announced that funeral services will be held at the Fort Myer Chapel at 9:45 a.m. Thursday. Burial will be at Arlington Cemetery.
Teammates and friends of Walsh, who lettered in both football and wrestling last year, said it was difficult to believe he was felled by a heat stroke or heart attack.
"He worked out all the time and was in the best shape of his life," said Chuck Heaton, a junior quarterback. "We live four doors apart and he was like the brother I never had.
"We went to the beach Saturday and we talked about how good the team would be. He told me he felt real good. He had just come back from a wrestling clinic in Iowa and was running about a 5:24 mile. You would look at Jon and say no way could this happen to him. When I stood next to him, I looked like a stick. But there are some things you just can't explain."
Ed Henry, Robinson's head coach, who is in his 31st year of coaching and is one of the most respected men in the field in the metropolitan area, took Walsh's death hard.
"We hadn't been outside 10 minutes before he collapsed," Henry said. "We worked on a few drills inside and it was at least 30 minutes before we went outside to run (11/2 miles). He was one of the group leaders. I asked Jon if his group was ready, and he said, 'Ready, coach.' "
Muzzio and Walsh had completed about a mile of Henry's final agility and condition drill when the offensive lineman suddenly dropped on the track. Muzzio, thinking his friend had tripped, never broke stride.
"Before we started," Muzzio said, "he said, 'You think about track (Muzzio won the National Junior Olympic discus title) and I'll think about wrestling. That way running won't be so hard.' We were just turning into the straight when he kind of stumbled. I thought he had tripped. When he stayed down, I figured he twisted his ankle and that guys behind me would pick him up and walk with him. When I came around again, he was still down."
"Jon just lay down and fell asleep," said Lepour, who wept when Walsh failed to respond to the CPR treatment. "He never came back."
Henry canceled Monday afternoon's workout and began second-guessing the coaching-teaching techniques he has employed for 31 years.
"Something like this has never happened before and it'll be with me all my life," he said. "The easiest thing I could have done was sit around and feel sorry for myself. John Cox (W.T. Woodson coach) and Bob Hardage (Annandale coach) and many of the players came to my house last night (Monday). Kids react better in some situations than adults.
"It's very tough coming right back out here but I have to do right by the rest of these kids. I can't change anything and I can't bring Jon back. A head coach is the one responsible. If he can take all the praise and credit for championships other people earned for him in the first place, then he had better be prepared to take the blame for anything bad."
The Robinson players zipped through both practice sessions yesterday. Some prospects who attended Monday's practice were absent but Henry couldn't attribute that completely to Walsh's death.
"We sent several home because their paperwork wasn't completed," Henry said. "Just taking a quick look, all of the veterans and seniors are here. Jon's death won't go away but we have to go on."
Also contributing to this story was Washington Post Staff Writer Thomas Grubisich.