Kyle Troutman: Heading down the right path

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

No one can ever be certain how they would deal with a tragic loss.

In the case of the Odessa football team, tragic loss came on July 19, when the state champion Bulldogs, who beat Cassville in the final, lost one of their own in 19-year-old Kade Kehl.

It’s a tragedy in every sense of the word. According to his coach, Kehl had an unbelievable heart and a potential to play pro ball after his time at the University of Central Missouri, where he had committed to play this fall.

As a journalist, stories about such loss are tough to write, but this week, I got to write a different angle about Kehl’s death.

Four graduated Cassville players — Deven Bates, Bowen Preddy, DJ White and Troy Hagins — who were on the other side of the line of scrimmage as Kehl last fall, made a point to go pay their respects at his visitation on July 25.

To a non-athlete, such a move by Cassville’s players may not make much sense. But, to any athlete who has ever had a coach as a role model, it seems like it’s the only thing to do.

Throughout my coverage of Wildcats football over the past six years, some things have become predictable. One of the biggest things that stands out is the brotherhood, the family the team creates among itself.

That type of feeling is fostered by a strong, committed, role model status set by coaches and staff. And, the Wildcat brotherhood is noticed around the state.

Odessa coach Mark Thomas said he was not surprised to see kids coming out of Cassville Coach Lance Parnell’s program make a three-hour drive for a 15-minute window to pay respects to an opponent. Teams have reputations for their styles of play and their behavior off the field, and Cassville is highly respected in both areas.

Parnell said when he heard about what his former standouts were doing, he beamed with pride.

“It makes me proud as a coach to know my guys respect their opponents enough and show the kind of character it takes to show respect for a kid who lost his life in a tragic way,” he said. “I haven’t had to deal with a situation like that, thank the good Lord, and that’s why I’m so proud of those kids.

“I’m proud of their character and who they are. And, it speaks volumes about their parents, and I hope they are proud, as well. We never know what we would do in those types of situations, and it was cool to see how these kids reacted.”

With how Parnell runs his team, that reaction seemed like the only possible one to Bates. He told me after all the years of Parnell “nagging” him about respect and professionalism, he thought he should keep the tradition going.

That is exactly what Parnell’s program hopes to instill.

His philosophy, he said, is to take young kids and teach them through the game of football how to be better young men, better future husbands and better future employees.

“We try to teach them how to work together, communicate and help people around them,” Parnell said.

Thomas said close to the same thing.

“I really try to convey to the players is that it’s much more important for them to grow up and become great fathers and husbands and leaders in their communities,” he said.

By all accounts, these coaches routinely achieve those goals. Bates said he and his teammates did not visit Kehl for recognition. In fact, at the time they called Kehl’s family to ask if they were comfortable with it, not even the boys’ parents or Parnell knew of their plan.

It was an organic, heartfelt, compassionate gesture from four boys quickly becoming strong men. Their parents, Parnell, the Wildcats football program, the Cassville school district and the city of Cassville should be proud.

With all the negativity and uncertainty in the world today, I am positively certain our youth are being led down the right path.

Kyle Troutman is the editor of the Cassville Democrat. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or at editor@cassville-democrat.com

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