ALTOONA - They came into the gym at Altoona Area High School in a uniform, but not the red and blue familiar to Juniata wrestling fans.
Instead, the wrestlers wore matching black T-shirts, in remembrance of one of their own who was supposed to make this trip, but instead was lost forever just a week ago.
The District 6 Class AA tournament in many ways was a symbol of why we don't say wrestling team, instead preferring to call it a wrestling community. Friday morning's session began with a silent tribute to two lost wrestlers who had hoped to be here - Juniata's Tad Treaster, who passed away after being hospitalized in the wake of the district team event, and Penn Cambria's Joey Stoy, like Treaster, a popular underclassman who was friend to almost everyone in his school.
Mount Union wrestler Blake Morder wore a T-shirt honoring the memory of Juniata’s Tad Treaster, who passed away this week.
Juniata has suffered this loss before - twice, in fact, in less than 10 years. Just as then, the wrestling community has come together again to help one of its own.
On Monday, just a day after many of the Juniata wrestling families were visiting Tad Treaster in the hospital, they were in the wrestling club building in Mifflintown. They were not so much grieving as remembering - the dads (and a few moms) of the sons still wrestling, sons who at that moment were just a few feet away, kneeling in prayer with their coach.
Like the adults in the next room, they were talking about Tad Treaster in happier times - recalling the moments that will be the memories they will take with them for life. The memories of a friend instead of a teammate - a person, not a wrestler. The dads, meanwhile, told the stories of each time one of their sons wrestled with Tad - remembering the person who brought joy to the other kids, with no regard to what the scoreboard said.
The kids at Juniata shared their thoughts on banners in the school hallway, and in a memorial tribute read by a classmate at the first sports event the school held after Tad was gone - appropriately enough, a contest that included East Juniata, where a younger Tad was part of that community.
Juniata coach Mike Robinson described his week as one not unlike something from a 1940s film, in which a person becomes inundated with telegrams. He's heard from all the teams, all the coaches - but a special few stand out.
Claysburg-Kimmel, the last opponent Tad saw, was among those who wrote to express sorrow. Wrestlers from Mount Union, East Juniata, Huntingdon and others were there for the team and for the family when Tad was laid to rest - in fact, throughout Friday's session of the district tournament, Mount Union 140-pounder Blake Morder could be seen wearing one of the memorial T-shirts whenever he wasn't wrestling. The Trojans presented Tad's family with a signed shirt when they visited their lost friend.
Bernie Chatman, who only recently left the Juniata Valley to make his home in Altoona, started a collection among the tournament officials to help the Treaster family defray its cost. Their donation, he hoped, would be used to allow families who could not afford it to attend a spaghetti dinner fundraiser planned for Wednesday evening at Juniata High School.
And just before the evening session began Friday, Ken Chertow Wrestling presented a gift certificate to Tad's brother Ty to attend one of the former Olympian's wrestling camps.
Of course, the club was right there, too, offering to pay any expenses the Treaster family couldn't afford.
One young life lost is one too many. And there's no criteria for who gets to stay.
But we're not a team. We're a community. And we owe to our sons, and daughters, wrestlers and non-wrestlers, to remind them that we share a common bond, a common obligation, and in the case of Tad Treaster, a common sense of joy over the happiness he brought to so many in his all-too-short time in our community.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.