The starting goalkeeper for the Walter Johnson High School boys' lacrosse team was killed in a single-car accident early yesterday morning, less than 10 hours before the Wildcats were scheduled to play in the program's first state semifinal game.
Roderick Bower, a 17-year-old junior, was killed when his car crossed over the center line and hit a tree in the 10400 block of Democracy Boulevard in Potomac, according to the Montgomery County Police Department. Bower was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:40 a.m.
"It's like we lost a member of our family, because the rest of our kids loved him so much," Walter Johnson Coach Jim Collin said. "Now, everything is secondary to dealing with the loss of Rod. Lacrosse is only a game, and what we're dealing with is much, much bigger than that."
Walter Johnson's players were told of Bower's death when they arrived at the school yesterday morning to board a bus for Annapolis High and a scheduled 1 p.m. state semifinal game against Westminster. In addition to coping with their teammate's death, the players had to decide later in the day whether to play the game, rescheduled for Monday at 7 p.m., or call an end to their season. At a team meeting last night, the team decided to play.
"Playing the game is what our team wanted, because they believed that Rod would have wanted them to play," said Collin, whose team will wear decals of the number 2 -- Bower's jersey number -- on their helmets Monday at Annapolis.
According to the statement issued by police, Bower apparently left his house without his parents' knowledge sometime during the night. His destination was unknown, and there is no indication that alcohol was a factor in the collision, but a final determination will be made following toxicology tests by the state's medical examiner office in Baltimore, according to the statement.
Bower was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the collision, according to the statement.
Principal Kevin Maxwell said Bower did not attend the school's prom, which was held Friday night, and there is no indication that the collision was related to the prom or a post-prom party, according to the police statement.
Bower's father, Neal, declined to comment yesterday.
Bower's peers as well as adults who knew him remembered the teen's endearing traits yesterday, from the green-and-white striped socks he wore when he played lacrosse to his modest, affable nature.
Jessie Euler, a junior at Walter Johnson and a close friend of Bower's, said she will remember Bower as one of the most popular students at school, one whose circle of friends extended beyond those on the lacrosse and ice hockey teams.
"I met him my freshman year in history class, and he was a great guy who always made me laugh -- he made everyone laugh," Euler said. "I never saw him unhappy. He always lived life to the fullest, and now its almost like its surreal because we'll go to school on Monday and he won't be there."
Maxwell brought counselors to the school yesterday morning to talk to the players.
"There were a lot of tears in that meeting, because everyone was devastated and everyone was somber and quiet for a couple of hours," Collin said. "He was such a fun-loving kid."
Euler, who plays attack for the school's girls' lacrosse team, said she spent several hours inside the school's cafeteria yesterday, where she met with other grieving students, and visited Bower's parents.
"You could see how many friends he had just by seeing the people who showed up, it wasn't just athletes," Euler said. "This has been devastating to our community, but it's also brought us together because it shows how much we care about each other."
Jeff Callahan said Bower and his son, Chris, a hockey and lacrosse teammate, had spent time together on Friday night. Bower shaved Chris Callahan's head in preparation for the Westminster game.
Bower "was a nice, decent, warm enjoyable person to be around," Jeff Callahan said. "He would play a tremendous game and you could say, 'Rod, great game,' and he would just smile and put his head down."
Bower earned the respect of his teammates this season by overcoming academic struggles. He was academically ineligible the second half of last season but improved his grades -- and his lacrosse skills -- to become the team's starter.
"As soon as I saw him in practice for the first time this year, it was like he was a totally different person, Collin said. "He earned a starting spot, and he worked hard because he didn't want to let the team down by not being able to finish the season like last year."
"Rod was the best goalie in the county in my opinion, to be honest with you," senior team captain Alex Chaudry said, "and he was a tremendous part of our team."
Special correspondent Jon Goldberg contributed to this report.