ABERDEEN — On Oct. 20, the Britton-Hecla football team gathered at head coach Pat Renner's house for a big meal and an even bigger matter.
Together, they talked and they cried, and Renner gave them the chance to sit out their upcoming game against Ipswich/Edmunds Central. Nobody would have blamed the young athletes for having too much on their minds to play football.
But their decision was unanimous and firm. The Braves would be brave for their quarterback.
"Everybody on the team stepped up like I've never seen before," Renner said. "They had a different look in their eyes."
The result was a resounding 74-20 victory Thursday night.
That was without star junior Trevor Zuehlke, who suffered a serious head injury during an Oct. 18 game at Warner.
His injury was the reason for the gathering at Renner's. And the Aberdeen American News reports it has grabbed the attention of students, coaches, school administrators, fans and many others well beyond northeast South Dakota.
After a CT scan at an Aberdeen hospital, it was determined that there was bleeding in Zuehlke's brain and he was flown to Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, according to a page set up for him on CaringBridge. That's an online social network that allows family members and loved ones to provide updates on medical conditions and others to send messages of support or make donations.
Nearly two weeks later, Zuehlke remains in a medical coma to keep swelling down and to allow time for his brain to heal.
The waiting is difficult, but necessary.
While Zuehlke was sedated, he has been responsive to touch and was able to breathe on his own with minimal assistance, according to a Monday CaringBridge update. An update Tuesday said he had been weaned off sedation.
Those close to Zuehlke know his determined attitude will serve him well as he tries to fight through the injuries.
Zuehlke is one of a kind, according to Renner. He's the kind of player who doesn't have to be told what to do, who takes initiative before being asked, who goes above and beyond for those around him.
"He's a leader, helper, big brother, friend," Renner said. "They don't come around like that all that often. Not real often."
You have free articles remaining.
Fundraisers at sporting events all over the state are being organized to benefit Zuehlke and his family.
Last week, donation buckets passed around during a Lennox vs. Vermillion football game brought in $1,380. Fans of Warner and Mobridge/Pollock teams raised nearly $3,500 at volleyball and football games. A drive during school hours in Webster drummed up more than $1,000 in just one day.
Campaigns are also planned in Burke and Rosholt, while "Trevor Strong" T-shirts can be ordered in Britton at H.H. Design and Clear Lake at Ultimate Ink. All of the profits will be donated to the family.
Many of the people helping have likely never met the Zuehlkes. But in South Dakota, the sense of community extends far beyond next-door neighbors.
Take the Lemmon-McIntosh football field, for example, some 250 miles from Britton. The 50-yard line now reads "#ForTrev" in large, blue letters underneath an image of the school's cowboy mascot. Even people outside of the Midwest have felt called to lend their thoughts and prayers.
"I've gotten texts and phone calls from coaches in other states," Renner said. "It never ends, the amount of support and people reaching out offering to help."
On Tuesday at 10 a.m. — because Zuehlke's football jersey number was 10 — people paused to take time to pray for healing. The event was spread on Facebook and elsewhere.
The dramatic outpouring of support has humbled the Zuehlkes, who are by their son's side as he takes baby steps toward recovery.
"We keep seeing the amazing support of other schools and communities across the whole region and we are so thankful for you all to take the time and the effort to show your love," a CaringBridge post from Kurt Zuehlke read. He's Trevor's father. "It is really humbling to see people from other places come together for Trevor's cause."
Zuehlke would have been proud of his teammates' effort in the opening round of the Class 9A playoffs.
"I know the first thing Trevor is going to say when he wakes up is, 'Did we win?,'" Renner said. "That's just the kind of kid he is."
The top-seeded Braves face Burke in a quarterfinal matchup Thursday in Britton. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.