Krista Elaine Armstrong
Navarro County, Texas


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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 loss.

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 just over."

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 her."

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 Debra.

"I love it," she said. "She's with us. She's here."

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 dstuckly@corsicanadailysun.com.


 


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox