6/2/2002 Armstrong's spirit lives on in Blooming Grove
By DERRICK STUCKLY/Daily Sun Staff
High school graduations have provided most young adults
the opportunity to rejoice and reflect over their adolescent accomplishments
with friends and family. But in Blooming Grove, as the Class of 2002 marched
down the aisle to receive their diplomas, there was an inescapable sense of
Hearts have been heavy this week as the thoughts of
many throughout the community have drifted to the life of Krista Elaine
Armstrong. Armstrong would have made the graduation walk with her classmates
this weekend had a tragic automobile accident not taken her life just over two
years ago this week.
And though Krista is no longer here in body, her spirit
clearly lives on in the many people she touched during her brief 16 years, both
as a friend and family member, as well as an amazingly gifted athlete.
"This has been a horrible week," said Debra
Armstrong, Krista's mother. "We said after Krista passed away these would
be the two hardest years of our lives."
Debra recalled how Krista went over her plans for the
future with her just days before the accident.
"Krista pretty much had everything put into
perspective," she said. "She knew what she wanted to do. She was going
to major in science and play volleyball and softball in college. Then it was
Krista had just completed her sophomore year at
Blooming Grove, one athletically that brought her numerous accolades. She had
earned first-team All-Golden Circle honors in both volleyball and softball. Her
tremendous competitive desire and love for athletics led the Daily Sun to name
its All-Golden Circle Softball Player of the Year award after her.
Her softball coach at Blooming Grove, Jim Owens, along
with several teammates reminisced about Krista's talent and heart this week.
"Krista was a warrior in whatever she was
doing," Owens said. "Softball, volleyball, track basketball, it didn't
matter. I have heard a lot of coaches give a lot of speeches and I think that's
the best compliment a coach can give a player."
Some of Debra's dearest memories of Krista are how she
played the game of softball.
"She was aggressive and hated to lose," Debra
said. "She was proud of her school and loved being a champion. I can't tell
you how proud I was of her. She was wonderful.
"She loved Coach 'O', she loved her teammates, she
loved the sport and she never wanted too much recognition."
Amanda Guthrie, a 2000 graduate at Blooming Grove,
remembered how Armstrong helped lead the team, despite being one of the youngest
players on the squad.
"She was definitely a team motivator and a team
leader," Guthrie said. "She gave 110 percent at all times and really
helped build our team. She might not have been as experienced as some of the
girls, but she wanted to win more than anyone else and she wanted everyone else
to feel what she felt."
Kori Patterson was another teammate of Armstrong's and
graduated with Guthrie in 2000. Her fondest memory of Krista's playing days was
the intensity she brought to the field each game.
"She was the most aggressive person you've ever
seen," Patterson said. "She may have looked like this little girl, but
she was always so aggressive and she always pulled through for you."
Krista's death hit Annah Russell doubly tough, as not
only was she a friend and teammate, but also her cousin. However, Russell's
outlook on softball, and life in general, has changed over the past two years
like many people who knew Armstrong.
"Since I am playing ball in college now, my heart
is so much more into it," said Russell, who graduated in 2001 and is now a
member of the Hill College softball team. "Everything is just so much
different now. I try harder in everything I do and don't quit as easily."
Russell also remembered how Krista carried herself on
the playing field.
"She was so intimidating and confident,"
Russell said. "And if we had a conflict with a different team, you always
knew she had your back."
And as much as you could depend on her between the
lines in the heat of battle, Armstrong was equally as reliable as a friend.
"She was the best person in the world,"
Patterson said. "You could call her at any time of the night and she'd let
you cry on her shoulder."
Guthrie added, "She would always cheer you up. If
something was wrong she'd be the first one to ask what's wrong and try and make
you feel better."
Owens still feels the effects of the loss of Armstrong,
both personally and professionally.
"It's probably been one of the most difficult
things I've had to endure in my adult life," Owens said. "The bond you
build with some kids may start out as coach or teacher-student, but sometimes
you wind up being friends. It's different with every kid, but Krista is one I
happened to feel like I had a special relationship with."
Owens, who knew the Armstrong family long before
coaching Krista in high school, recalled a time when he was over the ag
department and assisted her with a 4-H project.
"I can remember when I helped her with her lamb
project, I think she was 9 years old," he said.
Then when Owens was appointed head softball coach in
1995, Armstrong was one of the first players to let him know how eager she was
to play for him.
"We talked right after I got the job back in '95
about how she couldn't wait for the day when she could play softball for the
Lions," he said.
Krista's passing also put a strain on Russell, who
almost felt a sense of burden.
"It was really difficult," Russell said.
"I felt like I had to step up and fill her shoes and be the strong one in
the family and kind of take care of her little sister as well as mine. But it's
all better now."
Several of the current Lions' softball team members
didn't have the opportunity to play high school ball with Krista, but that
didn't prevent them from keeping her memory with the team.
"The first year we carried her No. 12 jersey
around with us everywhere we went," Owens said. "This year we were not
as verbal, but we didn't need it. We know Krista will always be with us."
And as the months and now years have passed since May
29, 2000, the wound is slowly healing for the Armstrongs.
They, along with members of the community and Owens,
have started the Krista Elaine Armstrong Scholar Athlete Foundation, which
presents a pair of scholarships to two students each year.
"That is something we are real proud of and
something all the kids want," Debra said. "It was just a way to honor
The Armstrongs are also anxiously awaiting the start of
the 2002-03 school year as Karah, their second child, begins her freshman year
at Blooming Grove High School.
"Karah is probably going to fall right into
Krista's footsteps," Debra said. "Krista taught her so much.
"We didn't get into (softball) much the first
year, but we got back into it this year and followed the girls and we will
really be into it big next year."
While the softball team's remembrance of Krista this
season wasn't as verbal as in 2001, there was one thing that didn't change with
the Lions' pre-game ritual.
"Wherever we are we face Blooming Grove and the
cemetery and say the Lord's Prayer and that kind of lets us zone in and get the
focus," Owens said.
Armstrong's grave site features a flagpole that proudly
displays a flag with the Lions' paw in the school's colors of blue and white.
And during the Lions' pre-game prayer, their huddle always remained open in the
cemetery's direction to include Krista and signify she was still with the team.
That gesture from the team has definitely touched
"I love it," she said. "She's with us.
And if anything in a world of growing uncertainty is
clear, it's that for the Armstrongs, the Lions' athletic program and the
community of Blooming Grove, Krista will always be with them.
Derrick Stuckly may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.