"He will always be in our hearts, he will always be in our family, he will always be on our team."
Nearly 200 hundred people gathered at McPherson Stadium Sunday night for an 8 p.m. candlelight vigil in remembrance of Braden Bush, the McPherson College student-athlete who died unexpectedly Friday night from complications of an asthma attack. Bush, a defensive back for the football team, was set to enter his senior year at Mac College.
Jen Jensen, Director of Spiritual Life and Service at McPherson College, led the vigil, reading from scripture first, asking that candles be lit in Bush's honor, followed by a prayer. Several of Bush's teammates, classmates and McPherson College faculty and staff members then spoke about Bush. The common theme among them was how funny he was, how he was always having fun, dancing and making people smile. He was also remembered for his competitiveness on the field and how he made his teammates better by how he pushed them during practice.
"I never knew what he saw in this place," said Cierra Logan, Bush's girl friend as she wiped tears from her eyes. "But once I moved here I realized this place is family, you all are family. It didn't take me long to realize why he loved it here."
Head football coach Paul Mierkiewicz was the last to speak. Before he did though, he asked a favor of the group that gathered. Braden Bush wore No. 15 so, in honor of that, Mierkiewicz asked that the vigil be moved from midfield to the 15 yard line.
"I want to thank our current coaches and players and people that I have talked to," said Mierkiewicz. "I spent the day on the phone yesterday with everyone I could talk to and I thought that I was consoling them and they were consoling me. He pushed me and will continue to push me to be a better coach and a better person. He set an unbelievable standard for work ethic, for character. I'm not embarrassed to say I loved Braden Bush. I'm fortunate to have had an opportunity to spend time with him and I think all of us here are as well. He will always be in our hearts, he will always be in our family, he will always be on our team."
Mierkiewicz said that there will be several things done to remember Bush during the upcoming season, though details of those have not been worked out yet. In his 28 years coaching football, Mierkiewicz said this is the first time he has had to deal with the death of a player while still on the team's active roster.
"There is no book for this, nothing to tell a coach how to handle this," Mierkiewicz said after the vigil. "There's nothing written to prepare a coach to deal with something like this."
Services for Bush are expected to be Saturday in his hometown of Blanchard, Okla., though details were not finalized at press time.
Contact Matt Cole by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MacSentinel.