UNITED STATES NEWS

High school football rivals in Maine come together in emotional game after mass shooting

Nov 1, 2023, 10:18 AM

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — The city of Lewiston took another tentative step in its recovery from Maine’s deadliest mass shooting as a storied high school football rivalry resumed Wednesday night.

Known as the Battle of the Bridge, the game featured cross-river rivals Lewiston High School and Edward Little High School of Auburn. Lewiston won 34-18.

Kasey Clark, who handed out a trophy named for his father to the winning team, said the game was “something the community desperately needed.”

“After the tragedy that unfolded in our community, this — our connection with one another, our bond with each other — this makes our community strong,” Clark said at midfield, surrounded by both teams.

“That strength is on full display for the entire state, country and the entire world,” he said before bringing both teams together to chant: “Strong.”

Last Friday’s game between the Blue Devils and the Red Eddies was postponed after the communities were locked down while police searched for 40-year-old Robert Card.

He was found dead Friday, days after shooting and killing 18 people and injuring 13 others at a bowling alley and a bar in Lewiston. Residents in both Lewiston and Auburn lost family and friends in the Oct. 25 shooting.

Singer James Taylor performed an acoustic version of the national anthem ahead of kickoff. There was a moment of silence.

“Words cannot express the tremendous grief our communities are experiencing over the tragedy of this past week,” a speaker said over the public address system. “As a community we are stunned. We mourn the tragic loss of lives and injuries, and our deepest sympathies go out to the victims, their families and friends.”

Then the person read out the names of the 18 who were killed, saying, “Let us not forget these names.”

“One week ago today, this community faced an unforeseeable tragedy,” Lewiston Police Chief David St Pierre told the crowd. ”I can confirm with unwavering confidence that Lewiston’s resilience has been proven and continues to shine brightly through these trying times.”

Lewiston Public Schools Superintendent Jake Langlais also spoke, thanking first responders.

“We started this week trying to do the best we could. We had an objective to care for those who cared for us, and tonight we’re doing that,” he said.

“We’re looking to pace our return to the new normal, whatever that is, in what was a command center one week ago,” Langlais said, referring to how the Lewiston campus was used by law enforcement during the massive search. “Today that place is a place of community. … We gather to say thank you, to recognize the strength of the history that is family between Lewiston and Auburn.”

Fans and students decked out in school colors began arriving about two hours before kickoff to snag good seats. Blue and white balloons hung from a fence near the field, and a banner displayed the interlocked first letters of Lewiston and Auburn and the phrase, “We stand together.”

Placards with the names of each of the victims written in blue in the center of a heart were also posted on the fence.

Among the first to arrive was Mark Barrett, a 58-year-old car salesman from Lewiston who knew two people who were injured in the shooting.

“It’s like they say, ‘Lewiston strong.’ We are all here together as one,” Barrett said. “This is probably the perfect setting, because it’s against your crosstown rival. It’s going to be great game. It’s going to be a game of unity.”

The game is one of the most important every year for the former mill towns, with friends and family having connections to it that go back decades. In the past the schools would have a walking parade from one city to the next, with fans dressing up in their team colors — blue and white for Lewiston, maroon and white for Edward Little.

The winner gets the trophy for the year and, of course, bragging rights.

Before the kickoff, organizers held a ceremony to honor first responders including police, firefighters, EMTs and hospital workers. Dozens stood in rows on the field while the crowd cheered for several minutes,

Kaiya Poulin, a 15-year-old first-year student from Lewiston, said she was heartened to get support even from people in Auburn who would normally be bitter rivals.

“It’s definitely good to see everyone,” she said. “We missed everyone. We couldn’t see each other. We were worried about one another.”

Barrett’s granddaughter, 13-year-old Aiyana Warren, said she was a bit nervous to come out for the game but was glad she did.

“At the end of the day, I just feel like we’re all coming together,” she said. “Most of us here have good intentions, just trying to get back with our community and build back better.”

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sent a message of support.

“Tonight two communities come together to celebrate a century-old tradition, the Battle of the Bridge,” Kraft said in a video statement. “Despite heavy hearts, football has always brought communities together, and never had that been more important than right now.”

This game even caught the eye of actor Will Ferrell, who did a hype video that the Lewiston High’s athletic department posted on the social network X, formerly known as Twitter. In it, Ferrell stares into the camera as if he is a coach prepping his players for the big game.

“Today’s the day. Showdown. Lewiston versus Edward Little. Everyone’s going to be watching, everyone’s going to be talking about it,” he says. “So lets bring it on! Lets bring it on like Donkey Kong! Have a great game. Go! Fight! Win! Whatever that means.”

The school confirmed it worked with Ferrell on the video, with Langlais calling him a “good human that thought comedy and humor might help as part of the healing process.”

Brandon Morin, 36, a lifelong Lewiston resident, brought his 3- and 5-year-old daughters to the game.

“Unity is the big word going around right now,” he said. “It’s huge we all come together because after the tragic things that did happen, t’s good we remember the importance of each other and the passion of friendship, family and love.”

Jennifer Laroche-Albert, a counselor at Lewiston High, said it was “awesome to see families, students and our athletes bonding together.”

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High school football rivals in Maine come together in emotional game after mass shooting