CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Jan. 12, 2008, is a day Brad States won’t forget.
It was the day seven Bathurst High School basketball players and a teacher, the coach's wife, were killed when the 15-passenger van they were driving in collided with a transport truck.
“As soon as the holidays come by, it’s kind of hard not to think about it,” the Bathurst, N.B., native said after Thursday’s Island Storm practice.
States grew up playing with and against the players involved in the fatal crash and he thinks about them to this day.
“All the time,” he said. “It’s something I will carry to my grave. They were great young men and they’ll never be forgotten, that’s for sure.”
States was a Grade 9 student at the French school in Bathurst the year of the crash.
He remembers being at his aunt’s house for a party the night of the crash and was sleeping on the couch when he heard the grownups talking.
“I could hear my dad downstairs weeping,” States recalled. “He woke me up the next day and said there was an accident and the boys got in a crash on the way home.”
The memories are vivid, and the emotions are still raw.
“It feels like it was yesterday,” States said. “(They're) still close to our hearts.”
Support staff and grief counsellors were brought into the schools. Classes were put off and exams were cancelled as the family, school, community and province mourned the players’ and teacher’s lives.
“It was a sad day for everybody,” said Greg Gould, UPEI Panthers women’s basketball head coach, who was the bench boss for the high school girls’ team in Riverview, N.B., 10 years ago, “certainly for the basketball community, but also for the entire athletic community and I think for the entire province.”
Riverview had played in Miramichi the night of the crash and was coming south as the Phantoms headed north after their game in Moncton. A lot of his players knew Phantoms from provincial teams, and two of the parents of the Riverview girls went to university with the Bathurst coach.
“It was tragic,” Gould said. “The next day . . . was kind of a rough day, and it was a rough day for everybody in the community for quite a long time.”
That same weekend, Storm head coach Tim Kendrick was coaching the Horton Griffins boys’ basketball team from Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in a tournament at Kennabacasis Valley in New Brunswick. The Griffins were staying in Saint John, N.B., and had played the night of the crash.
The next morning someone from the hotel came to get Kendrick as there were a number of messages for him. Radio stations in Nova Scotia were reporting a high school basketball had been in a fatal crash in New Brunswick.
Kendrick got in touch with parents and got a message back to the radio station to let everybody know they were OK.
Gould and Kendrick have more than 75 combined years of coaching experience. They said accidents do happen, and while the Bathurst crash is incredibly tragic the infrequency of serious crashes shows the good decisions that are made by teams of all sports travelling from December to April.
One of the worst situations Gould can recall came during his tenure coaching the St. Thomas Tommies years ago. He was in Charlottetown to play UPEI’s junior varsity squad when word of a storm came up. He called the Panthers coach and asked to cancel the game in order to hit the road.
It wasn’t snowing when they left for Fredericton, N.B., but 20 miles outside of Charlottetown that changed. And it got worse as they got closer to Summerside. Gould was driving and eventually had to pull over. The team took shelter in a farmhouse in Albany. They called a nearby motel and booked the four remaining rooms. When the snow let up slightly, they borrowed a shovel and dug the van out to get to the motel. They hunkered down for the night and waited for the next ferry off the Island.
As States prepared to play tonight in Sydney, N.S., on the anniversary of the crash he recalls one of his finest moments of his basketball career — winning a provincial championship.
States transferred to Bathurst High the year after the crash and played for the Phantoms.
“Just by chance we ended up with eight guys,” States recalled.
It was mostly a younger squad and the team dropped down from AAA to AA.
Their coach had a heart attack during the season, but the team, which States called a family, persevered. They went on a remarkable 35-3 run, including 26 consecutive wins heading into the provincial tournament.
They ended the seasons as champs, winning the New Brunswick title on an emotional day at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton, N.B.
“To this day, one of the funnest teams I’ve been apart of,” he said.
The following people died when the Bathurst Phantoms bus collided with a transport truck 10 years ago today.