Return to Sports
by Greg Talkington
(September 13, 1998) ELLENBORO -- Dick and Nancy Schofield still can't bring themselves to view the game film the night their youngest son suffered a fatal blow on a small-town high school football field. Neither can Ritchie County coach Kenny Wright nor school administrator Tom Cowan.
They would rather remember Chuck Schofield's life, and the many good qualities it embodied.
If fate weren't so cruel, Schofield would now most likely be entering medical school with his boyhood friend, Greg Perkins. Instead, family, friends, and a community still wonder why, but have worked hard to make sure his legacy will long be remembered.
It was a cool autumn Friday night, Sept. 24, 1993, to be exact, when the Ritchie County Rebels traveled across the rolling hills of west central West Virginia to battle rival Wirt County in Elizabeth.
Schofield, a tight end and middle linebacker, led the team in both receptions and tackles heading into the game.
Early in the third quarter, while returning to the huddle after a play, he collapsed onto the turf. His mother, Nancy, remembers the scene all-to-well.
"I told his dad, go out there and check on him," she said.
"I had always told Chuck that if he got injured, just to hold a finger up to show me he was all right," she said.
"He didn't hold his finger up."
His father, Dick, rushed onto the field to see about his son.
"When I got out there, I asked him, 'what's wrong son?'" Dick Schofield said.
"He said, 'I don't know dad,' and that's all he said."
He then got up, headed back for the huddle and collapsed again. Those were the last words Chuck ever spoke.
Until this day, nobody is sure just when the blow that felled Schofield occurred.
Tom Cowan was in the end zone when Schofield went down.
"I don't know why, but I noticed Chuck right away," Cowan said.
"The play had gone away from him, but my eyes kept on him.
"I told my wife I bet he's taken another shot to the head," Cowan said.
Schofield had suffered a severe concussion the year before, but this would prove much worse.
Cowan said his son Andrew, then a freshman, told him that Chuck complained of dizziness at halftime.
A teammate, Aaron Nutt, said he noticed Schofield's eyes the play before.
"He had kind of a glassy look," Nutt said. "After the play, he went to one knee.
"Then when he tried to get back to the huddle, he collapsed," Nutt said.
"Those who have (seen the film) say they can't see one instance where he got hit or hit someone that might have caused it," Cowan said.
"That doesn't mean it didn't happen because the film doesn't always show what he was doing each play.
"But it could have happened in the first half or it could've just been something where he had a hereditary weakness and some contact aggravated it," Cowan said.
"No one seems to know for sure."
Paramedics carefully loaded Schofield inside an ambulance and sped off for Camden-Clark Hospital in Parkersburg.
"That was the worst nightmare I've ever been through, that siren screaming all the way from Wirt County to Parkersburg," Nancy Schofield said. "The doctor came in and told us he'd do everything he could."
For Wright, the night would hold a double-dose of reality.
"When we got back into the dressing room, my trainer told me he had something to tell me and it didn't have to do with what happened at the game," Wright said. "My mother had just had a stroke and they were taking her to another hospital in Parkersburg."
After checking on his mother at St. Joseph's Hospital (she eventually recovered), he hurried over to see about Schofield.
"I was still in my coaching clothes at 7 o'clock Saturday night," Wright said. On Sunday, between 200 and 300 people packed the hospital lobby, hoping and praying for a miracle.
"Those kids just stayed right around the clock with us," Mrs. Schofield said. "The support we received was truly great."
But by the middle of the week, it was clear that Chuck Schofield would never recover.
"I went into the conference with his parents and doctors on taking him off the life support," Wright said. "That was the toughest thing I've ever had to do."
Dick Schofield knew what Chuck's feelings were on the issue.
"He had even talked about it before," Schofield said. "He said if anything ever happened, he didn't want to be a vegetable."
Still, letting go was tough.
"The hardest thing I've ever done in my life was to take that child off life support," Mrs. Schofield said.
On Wednesday, Sept. 29, 1993, doctors disconnected the life support. A few hours later, Chuck Schofield died. The official cause of death: Cerebral hematoma (bleeding of the brain).
Nearly 3,000 people packed the Ritchie County gymnasium to honor Chuck Schofield at his funeral.
"I couldn't believe all the people that we're there, because you could've heard a pin drop in that place," Mrs. Schofield said. "I didn't hear anyone come in."
Wright, who spoke at the funeral, said he kept his composure until the song "The Dance" by Garth Brooks was played.
"I had never heard that song before, but it really brought ...," Wright said, looking away. "I was getting along pretty good until then."
A COMMUNITY BONDS
Soon after Chuck's death, Wright and some of his players asked the Ritchie County Board of Education to name the school's new stadium in memory of Schofield.
The board agreed, and soon after, Chuck Schofield Memorial Stadium was a reality.
In the meantime, Wright and Chuck's parents started the Chuck Schofield Memorial Fund to help finance the new football facilities.
"It grew and grew and grew and the result of it is the great facilities we have here now," Dick Schofield said. "It's taken all this time, but it's what I had pictured in the back of my mind when we started it."
The school board allocated some money and Simonton Windows donated $25,000. But much of the money came from donations from the community and surrounding counties.
Dick Schofield, who worked most of his life running heavy equipment, spent many hours working on the facility. So did several of his friends from the local labor union.
"I think we had seven bulldozers here running at the same time," he said.
"The day we poured concrete, there were 35 guys here from St. Marys, Wood County and other places ready to help," Cowan said. "The support we had, not only from within Ritchie County, but from surrounding areas was unbelievable."
Wright said the progress made the summer following Chuck's death was astounding.
"When school ended in June, we had a field, two goalposts, a flagpole and nothing else," Wright said. "When we played our first game at the end of the summer, we had a track, a concession stand, bleachers on both sides of the field, a press box, lights up and the field fenced in.
"All of that in 80 days. There were people here working every day. I never missed a day, not even Sundays."
Since then, more improvements have been made. The track, through monies from the school board and state funds, now has an all-weather surface. The fieldhouse for the team was completed two years ago, all done by volunteer labor.
"If there's a Class AA school in the state that has any finer facilities than this, I haven't seen it," Wright said. "It's amazing what people can do when they come together.
"That field represents the love the community had for Chuck," Nancy Schofield said. "Our hope now is that it will be taken care of properly once the ones who did the work are gone."
Chuck Schofield's life is still impacting lives.
"He was such a caring individual," Nutt said. "He was a real hitter on the field, but he was always the first to pick you up and give you a pat on the back.
"He looked out for all of us and everytime you'd turn around, he was helping somebody."
His death also made the people of this small community ponder their purpose.
"It made me realize how life is so precious, that you never know when it's going to happen," Nutt said. "Now, I take one day at a time and try to make the best of it."
For Wright, who considered quitting the coaching profession, much has changed since then.
"When it happened, I really didn't think I could go on with it," Wright said. "My trainer quit the next year because he felt responsible and I felt the same way. He's back now and does a great job.
"But I think the one thing that kept me in it was that the other kids really needed us as coaches. We just couldn't turn our backs on them."
Wright says he's become increasingly safety conscious.
"We've always stressed proper tackling technique, but now, you're really careful to stress it over and over," Wright said.
For his parents, time hasn't diminished the pain.
"I walk around that track every day and I feel like he's right there with me," Nancy Schofield said. "It's hard to go to ball games and it's hard to do anything out there.
"I have three other children (ages 40, 38 and 29) and I love them dearly, but losing a child, it's something you don't ever get over."
"I never, ever thought anyone could die from playing football," Dick Schofield said. "You look back and wonder why."