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Players, fans fight back tears

by Mike Nutter

SPORTS WRITER

The flag in center field flew at half staff. Players wore patches on the left sleeve of their jerseys. Fans donned red, white and blue ribbons on their shirts.

Gilmer County High School's baseball team returned to the place where just 48 hours earlier, David Jaffre -- their coach, teacher and friend -- had passed away.

It was a sobering atmosphere. Players openly wept, still others did nothing in the minutes leading up to first pitch. The common thread that kept everyone together, though, was the game. When Gilmer County pitcher Lance Woodford struck out the final Doddridge County batter to end the game and preserve his team's 6-3 win, he and the rest of his teammates met outside the dugout in one big embrace. Rightfielder Dusty Ellyson dropped to one knee and had to be consoled.

The emotion transcended the game, and made the win almost an afterthought.

Still, there was the game, and for the first time in nearly two days, a reason to smile.

"It's what coach would've wanted," Woodford said surrounded by family and fans. "There was no way we wouldn't have played this game (Thursday). A lot of the guys met yesterday as a group and just talked about a lot of things. We tried not to show a lot of emotion. We wanted to use this as motivation a lot more than we wanted it to bring us down.

"That's what coach would've wanted. I know he's looking down on us right now, and I know he's happy."

The support for the Glenville school was obvious. The Gilmer County stands filled their side of the park and swelled over along the fence and behind home plate.

Paul Woodford, Lance's father, was one of those in attendance. Lance is the third Woodford brother to play for Jaffre and through the years, the elder Woodford and Jaffre had become friends. Beside him sat his middle son, Justin, who had graduated in 1996. Travis, the oldest Woodford, graduated in 1994 and is now serving on the Gilmer County coaching staff.

"(The parents) really didn't talk to the kids much," Paul said. "We sort of let them work it out among themselves. I think before the game started the boys were a little emotional, but I thought once things got going they were all right. I think they went back to playing ball and for a little while, anyway, were able to put everything aside.

"Having three sons play for coach Jaffre, I had come to know him pretty well. He was a good coach, but even better person. He was enjoyable to be around and I think it shows by all the people being here today."

Joey Frashure, who played for Jaffre in the late '90s, served as coach for Gilmer County. Frashure said his pregame speech he focused on the game, and tried to get the team to put its emotions aside.

"This is what being a team is all about," Frashure said. "Everyone was helping each other out. The kids did a nice job of forcing things to the side for seven innings and doing what they had to do.

"Before the game, there were some tears. Once we stepped between the lines the kids were all right. Coach Jaffre was a great man, and he would've wanted us to play the game and not be sobbing over him. There was no hesitation. The team wanted to play."

Even from the Doddridge County perspective it was obvious Tuesday's tragedy was felt among all those in attendance. Doddridge County coach Dave Mires had come to know Jaffre not only as a colleague, but as a friend.

"It was a traumatic experience," Mires said. "It's tough to have to witness that. It was hard on our kids, too. I really don't think either team could've played this game yesterday, but I think going ahead with it was the best thing for everyone.

"I'd come to know (Jaffre) pretty well. It's just hard. Everyone hears about stuff like this, but when you're involved in it, it really does put everything into perspective."

Gilmer County principal John Bennett was one of those also affected by the loss of Jaffre. Bennett has been the school's principal for three years, but had served in the Gilmer County education system for 23 years -- most of those with Jaffre.

Bennett said Jaffre's influence in the Glenville community stretched well beyond any lines on a playing field.

"He was just a very well respected man," Bennett said. "He was active in a lot of things back home -- sports, school, his church. I think he touched a lot of people.

"I think the thing we'll all miss most about him was his humor. He always had a way of keeping everyone upbeat. He was a good man."

Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444.

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