On this day, two years ago, a charter bus which was hauling the Bluffton College baseball team to Florida for a spring break tournament, crashed over an overpass on Interstate 75 in Atlanta, tragically ending the lives of five players, as well as the driver and his wife.
The entire nation was rocked by the awful news, and the sight of that bus resting on its side in the middle of the highway — with the flashing lights of fire trucks and ambulances surrounding it — left us all with a baseball-sized lump in our throats and an unbearable heaviness on our hearts.
I remember the day all too well, especially since one of the players who lost his life — David Betts — was a native of Bryan, and an athlete that I had covered for The Times since my first day on the job in May 2004.
I remember receiving word of the accident from then-Editor, Jay Cullis, who informed me that I would be covering the heartbreaking story for the newspaper's cover page. I'll tell you what, that was the worst day I had ever had on the job, and hopefully ever will have. This wasn't your typical sports story, it wasn't your run-of-the-mill gamer or your everyday column or feature. No, this was the hardest, most difficult story that I had ever reported.
It was personal.
The first thing I recalled about David — when preparing for the story — was his great abilities on the baseball field. I always felt that David was a prototype lead-off man, because of his quick hands and even quicker feet. The kid — who sported No. 11 on his jersey because of his hero, Barry Larkin — could flat out tear up the base path with his blinding speed.
His glove was nasty as well. The Golden Bears' second baseman would scoop up everything that came his way on the right side of the Sumpter infield.
Then, as I recalled David as a person, the thing that stood out to me was that smile which was always stretched across his face. Seriously, this kid was always smiling or laughing, as if he was listening to a punch line of a joke that the rest of us couldn't hear.
The first time I met David in 2004, I was in the press box at Sumpter Field and I had some notes that flew out onto the field. When I went down to retrieve the notes, there was David sitting in the dugout, with the papers in hand, reading every word.
I said "hey kid, can I get my notes back?" David just laughed and said "uh, here" — with a goofy smile on his face. I thought to myself, "Is this kid laughing at me or something?"
I soon came to find out, that's just who he was — he really, really enjoyed life.
As I began to construct the story, it became more and more difficult, because I started to think about David's father and grandfather — two gentlemen I became quite acquainted with during my time covering the Bears. It was quite upsetting, just trying to imagine what they were going through after receiving the tragic news.
I recalled David's father, John Betts, pumping his fist and screaming "that a boy, David Joe" every time he laced a base knock or legged out a double or triple, with his incredible speed. Shoot, I think I still have bruises on my back where John would slap me in excitement.
I recalled David's grandfather, Feroen Betts, talking baseball with me, and always speaking proudly of his grandson, as well as his granddaughter, Sarah, who was starring at Bluffton as a pitcher on the softball team.
You see, David left behind a family who loved him more than life itself. He also left behind friends, teammates, coaches and teachers, who truly cared about him. He left a gapping hole in Bryan, Ohio.
Fact was, the world on March 2, 2007, just wasn't as good a place without 'Smiling David' in it.
Two years later, David is still greatly missed. But, he is still alive in many people's hearts.
Every time a baseball game is played in Bryan — David will be remembered.
Every time a baseball game is played at Bluffton College — David will be remembered.
As for this sports writer?
Every time I see a kid giving it his all on the baseball diamond — I'll remember David.
Every time I see a father cheering proudly for his son — I'll remember David.
And, every time I see a kid with a goofy smile on his face — I'll remember David.
It's safe to say, David will be remembered. Not just today (March 2), but forever!