This past weekend should have been one filled with pure happiness and joy for the Palmyra football and Annville-Cleona field hockey teams.
The Cougars found themselves smack dab in the middle of the District 3 football playoff chase heading into last Friday's home game vs. Trinity, while Annville-Cleona, which captured its first section championship in 44 years a few weeks back, was preparing to continue its thrilling season with a district playoff quarterfinal game vs. Schuylkill Valley on Saturday.
And then real life, in the form of a pair of devastating tragedies, intruded on the fun and games.
On Thursday night, Palmyra lost a member of its extended family when former teammate and 2015 grad Ryan Monk was killed in a car crash. Less than 24 hours later, A-C suffered a profound loss of its own when its ex-teammate and June graduate Stephanie Inman passed away unexpectedly of a sudden medical issue while away at college.
It was enough to knock the most resilient and tough-minded kids and coaches to their knees. Somehow, though, the Cougars and the Dutchmen stayed on their feet, coming up with important, emotional victories while mourning the tragic reality of two young lives cut devastatingly short.
Palmyra, with their beloved ex-teammate's initials on the back of their helmets and his old No. 73 jersey watching over from the sideline and at midfield during the pregame coin toss, kept its postseason hopes alive with a 35-24 win dedicated to Monk's memory.
The next day, A-C provided an equally poignant tribute to Inman, whose No. 28 was written on their wrists as a reminder to not drop their heads in discouragement during the game, pulling out a 1-0 victory that lifted it into the district semifinals and into a rare state playoff berth. The emotional impact of the victory, and the previous day's tragedy, was heightened by the fact that Inman's cousin, Chloe Inman, is a starter on the team and playing with the heaviest heart of all.
Two incomprehensible tragedies that will take quite a long time to recover from, if it's even possible to.
But in the midst of all this darkness, some light seeped in.
Friendships and bonds between teammates were tightened. The respective schools and communities that these teams play for honored and supported their efforts to rise above, most notably the well-wishers that lined the exit to Annville-Cleona High School as the field hockey's team's bus departed for Saturday's game. It was a solemn, but heartwarming show of support for kids who badly needed it.
And the night before, the sight of Palmyra walking slowly onto the field arm-in-arm and then taking Monk's jersey to midfield for the coin toss provided images that will linger in the mind's eye forever.
We live, unfortunately, in angry times, times in which compassion for others often seems to be in short supply. The current fight for the White House - it's not civilized enough to be called anything else - stands as proof of that.
But as the Palmyra and Annville-Cleona teams and communities have shown us over the past few days, people do still care for each other and are quick to be there for each other when tragedy strikes. Certainly, life would be better for all if the need for such support had never come about, but the fact that it did provides at least some salve for these deep wounds.
It also provided a new appreciation for life in an age group that often sees itself as bulletproof - it's understandable, we all did at that age - that it will hopefully remain mindful of after the initial shock of these tragedies passes.
If they ever forget, they should remember the healthy dose of perspective Palmyra coach Chris Pope provided after Friday's game.
"It just makes you think how lucky you are every day to wake up. You never know when something like that's going to happen," Pope said, while pointing out that Monk had been with the team on the sidelines just a few weeks ago during its Homecoming game.
And if you, the reader, ever become negative about today's youth and start believing they're completely selfish and self-involved, I encourage you to remember the tweet Annville-Cleona's Michaela Singer sent out after Saturday's game in tribute to Inman:
"We did it. We did it for you."