CARTHAGE — Prayers for a sign. Prayers for a miracle. Prayers for support. Prayers for salvation. Hundreds, if not thousands, of prayers in silent moments, classrooms, churches, on social media — anywhere Carthage student Tyler Christman and his family have been, and far beyond, support for them could be felt on Monday.
In a junior varsity football game against West Genesee High School in Camillus on Saturday afternoon, Tyler collapsed on the field not long after tackling an opposing player and was unresponsive.
He was taken to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, where surgeons performed brain surgery.
By 9 p.m. on Sunday, a close relative posted an update on Facebook in response to many requests for information by friends and family members.
Tyler “was not responding to any stimuli after his surgery.” There was a bleed in his frontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for “higher functions” like decision making, logic and focus — and “a great deal” of swelling in his brain.
Doctors told the family that “watch and see” would be the name of the game for the first two hours after surgery. But before the family member could post her update, she was told Tyler had some eye response and a cough reflex.
It was a glimmer of hope, but the family member said, “He still needs a miracle.”
But even before that update came through, Hailey Reece, one of Tyler’s close friends and his cousin’s best friend, came up with an idea: she asked people via a Facebook post with a picture of Tyler to wear red on Monday to show him support.
“I was hoping if everyone wore red it would bring the community together and make today easier. I wanted to give everyone hope,” Ms. Reece said. “I wanted Tyler to see how many people truly care about him. He is loved so much. I love him so much.”
The suggestion spread quickly far beyond the village limits, the school district’s boundaries, the north country and the state of New York.
Carthage Central and Augustinian Academy students locally and in districts around the north country poured into classrooms decked in whatever red garb they could find.
Prayer lines stretching throughout the country quickly formed on social media on Monday and Comet-red shirts worn in solidarity showed up in schools, businesses and all over social media in locations near and far: central and western New York; down the eastern seaboard to North Carolina, Maryland and Florida; out to California and across to Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas and Michigan in between.
Photo after photo, post after post, showed teams, businesses and entire families decked in red, reaching out in the face of the tragedy.
Number 27, Tyler’s number, even showed up on ribbons tied to backpacks.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say, we have the very best community. -TylerStrong,” said Hailey’s mother, Brandi Baker on her Facebook page.
The community did not stop there.
Beginning at about 3 p.m., a few local volunteer firefighters started putting together a rally to bring the community together to show support for Tyler, his family, his team and each other.
By 7 p.m., about 30 fire trucks, ambulances, police vehicles and more than 100 of the first responders and hundreds of community members had assembled at the Village Park off State Street. Lights swirling, a prayer was said and the crowd was led in the Our Father.
Tyler’s teammates came together in front of the Carthage Fire Department’s ladder truck, ladder extended in salute to their fallen brother.
They said it was a hard day at school as they realized, sitting at the lunch table without him there, “it will never be the same.”
“We’re hurt. We lost a brother,” said one player, as others shared what they love about Tyler. “He brought this energy to everything.”
The words they used to describe him were “inspiring,” “humorous” and “beautiful.”
Many of them came up through Pop Warner, laughing about the fact he tried his hand at quarterback before becoming an outside linebacker on JV.
The boys said they’ve got to “think positive” about their teammate.
By the end of the gathering, there were tears for many of the players, for other students who surrounded them and the community as a whole.
Hailey, who was still in Syracuse with her mom and Tyler’s family at the hospital, didn’t get to see the impact of her call for “red.”
“It has been an emotional roller coaster. My friends have been reaching out but I have no idea what to say other than just pray,” she said.
That, and wear red.