As the news poured in from Milligan University last week, I was reminded of lyrics from one of my favorite James Taylor songs, “Fire and Rain.”
I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again
Last Wednesday morning, a smile came to my face as I got a familiar email from Milligan University. With temperatures in the 70s and the sun shining, the school’s annual surprise Wonderful Wednesday celebration was held on campus.
For those who aren’t aware, Wonderful Wednesday is essentially an impromptu party held each spring. Classes are canceled and members of the close-knit student body are free to ride down waterslides, play some sand volleyball, eat a few snacks and wrap the day up with a fireworks display.
Here at the News & Neighbor, we always enjoy running photos from the event because our readers can feel the joy radiating from the pictures of college kids putting their daily stresses aside and reconnecting with their inner children.
As you can see from the two photos above, it was a sunny day nobody thought would ever end. Then came Thursday.
I personally didn’t attend Milligan, but my younger brother did. The bonds he created with classmates, particularly with his teammates on the school’s golf team, have lasted a lifetime.
I had the pleasure of covering Milligan athletics for a couple of years, and during that time I really grew to enjoy my regular chats with Milligan cross country and track coach Chris Layne. It was fun to watch the track and cross country program he had been building for 20 years become a major player on the national stage, and I was thrilled for him and his staff when both the Milligan men’s and women’s cross country teams won NAIA national titles last fall.
I only tell you about my connections to Milligan so you’ll understand why the press release I received at 9:48 p.m. last Thursday night hit me in the chest like a jackhammer. Word came in that three members of Milligan’s cross country team – Eli Cramer, Alex Mortimer and Eli Baldy – had been in an accident involving a vehicle while running near Williamsburg in advance of a track meet. Cramer, a sophomore, succumbed to his injuries.
I thought instantly of the inexplicably difficult call Chris Layne had to make to Eli’s family in middle Tennessee. I thought about the other injured runners and their families. And then I thought about Cramer’s teammates and classmates coming to grips with something that must have seemed inconceivable.
College students live in a world of “see you laters.” Goodbyes are so few and far between at that age.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Milligan community took time to mourn. All classes and athletic events were cancelled on Friday.
But out of that mourning has come resolve. Mortimer spoke from his hospital bed the day after the accident and offered words of encouragement to his classmates back at Milligan. Milligan’s Student Government President Chase McGlamery penned a message encouraging his classmates to live fully, love deeply and fight through the pain together, as a community.
Support has also come from beyond Milligan’s campus. The distance runners at the University of Tennessee painted a message of encouragement to Milligan University on the famed rock located on their Knoxville campus.
If you are part of the Milligan community, know that you are in the thoughts and prayers of countless people in our region and beyond. We wish you all peace and healing in the difficult days ahead.