DARRINGTON – The smiles returned to this community in the shadow of Whitehorse Mountain on Monday afternoon.
There was even laughter and a few outbursts of giggles, and it was needed after what the people here had been through in the wake a massive landslide that left at least 27 people dead and 22 others believed to be missing. After more than a week of bad news, and no news that was even worse news, the community deserved a distraction.
It was provided for a few hours by players and employees from the Seahawks and Sounders FC, who turned the gymnasium at Darrington High School into a pep assembly and the adjacent fields into an array of diversionary activities.
How badly was this one afternoon in the aftermath needed? The emotions played out on the face of athletic director Cory Ross as he tried to put into words what the past 10 days had been like.
“Our kids needed a distraction. Our community needs something to look forward to,” Ross said with a smile, but also with tears running down his cheeks. “Anything to take our minds off what’s going on is great. We need that.
“So this is amazing. It really is. It means a lot to have people come and show how much they care. For the Seahawks, the Sounders, the Sea Gals to take time out of their busy, busy lives for such a small area, it shows it is out there and that people are caring. The outpouring of things that have come to our community, the donations, it’s overwhelming and greatly needed right now.”
But the contingent numbered more than 50 and represented every department at Virginia Mason Athletic Center – from CFO and VP of finance Karen Beckman to Blitz, the Seahawks’ mascot; executive chef Mac McNabb, who made dinner for more than 600, to director of community outreach Sandy Gregory and her staff; fan development coordinators Thomas Burien and Jessica Hancock to Sea Gals Jessica and Christian.
They turned the Hoosiers-era gymnasium into an impromptu feel-good center, one field into a soccer skills event, another into a football skills course and a flag football game broke out on the football field.
“This is pretty cool,” said 10-year-old Danny Helling. “I heard from a friend on the phone that they were coming and I’ve been pretty excited about it.”
The best of the best?
“Probably Blitz,” Helling said.
“Throwing the football,” said Emily Ross, Cory Ross’ daughter.
The smiles on faces of all ages and handshakes of gratitude for anyone wearing Seahawks or Sounders FC logos were perhaps the best gauge of just what this visit meant to the community. It was more than the players could have expected.
“I definitely never done anything like this before,” Kearse said. “But for us to just be able to come out here and be a part of the this community, which needs some enlightenment and some encouragement, just to be able to bring some positive vibes here and be able to make little kids smile and their families smile it’s very heartwarming.”
Kearse made his comments just after a private meeting with some of the people who lost family members in the slide.
“God has put me in a position where I have a lot of influence and the ability to encourage and influence,” he said. “So just to be out here and be a positive figure to these people who need it right now, it’s overpowering.”
That’s why Kearse did not hesitate to volunteer when he heard about the visit. After all, he did grow up in Lakewood and played at the University of Washington before joining the Seahawks as a rookie free agent in 2012.
“There was no question,” he said. “Especially with me being from the state of Washington, it definitely means a lot more. I consider the whole state of Washington as my people. So you’ve just got to be there for your people.”
But on this afternoon, the Super Bowl heroes put the focus on the real-life heroes.
“For them to come up here and let these kids have fun, not think about what’s going on, means more than I can explain,” Ross said. “It really does.”