It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
There was to be a pep rally, like always. High fives and jokes. Laughs and organized cheers. The perfect season, the No. 4 state ranking in Class 4A, and sporting a perfect 11-0 record.
But this was no pep rally. The drive toward a state championship was suddenly on freeze frame.
The same students who grew up laughing and growing alongside Cody Johnson had gathered inside Ada High School’s Student Center Thursday night to mourn him.
He won’t be lining up at his normal offensive tackle and defensive end positions tonight. But don’t try telling his coaches and his teammates Cody’s spirit won’t be right there in the huddle with them.
As of yesterday, Norris Field has a large A painted on it with No. 56 in the middle of it honoring the Cougars’ fallen teammate.
Instead of high fives there were burning candles — each student helping the other student start a flame until one burning candle became hundreds of burning candles.
All were there to pay tribute to Cody; one of the Cougars’ most popular players. The usual pregame banners were on the wall, but they were now filled with messages from the heart as student after student walked up to write his, or her, goodbyes, then to stand and read what other classmates had to say about Cody.
When he promised his mother victory, just before going on his motorcycle ride, he was referring to the ninth-rated Cleveland Tigers, Ada’s state quarter final opponent tonight.
“We’re going to beat the snot out of ’em, Mom,” he had said, minutes before leaving the house on his motorcycle.
But the wave of the perfect season — and the dream of a state championship season — ended abruptly when tragedy intervened.
Cody was killed and his classmates were now assembled here trying to help each other get through it. Confidence had been shattered. Doubt and confusion reigned.
So the drums were silent. It was quiet. So quiet that only the grief could be heard.
Calvin Prince, an administrator for the Pontotoc County Drug Center and a member of the crisis team, offered the opening prayer.
Jay Keel with the Chickasaw Nation was the next person to step onto the stage to offer words of encouragement for both family and friends of Cody’s.
Head Coach Matt Weber spoke next: “Everybody loved Cody, but more important, Cody loved everybody,” he told the students.
He was followed by Cody’s step-father, Bud Masters, his voice choked with emotion. “He loved every one of you guys,” he told the football players. “I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. He would just want you guys to do the best you could.”
Teammate Easton Pingleton called Cody one of the best athletes he had ever seen. He joked about how strong Cody was and how it always took two guys to block him.
Commenting on the show of support, Weber said, “This is Ada. This is what we’re about. We stand each other up.”
Classmate Maddie Henning said she felt she’d lost her best friend. “I grew up with him,” she said, breaking into tears. “I feel like I’ve lost a piece of my heart. He was my great big teddy bear.”
Hunter Bedsole said Cody was his best friend. “He was unpredictable and random,” he said. “You never knew what he was going to do next.”
“He brought us together as a family,” said classmate Brittany Sweeney.
He encouraged Cody’s teammates not to let down because of the tragedy but to set an example for people throughout Oklahoma and the nation in moving forward in a time of crisis.
When the ceremony came to an end, many in the crowd continued to sit. Many wept and friends rallied around the family trying to offer some degree of comfort.
The emotions for the most part were quiet, somewhat confused, unlike the pomp and circumstance of the usual pep rally noise.
But in their hearts, a sound of painful silence seemed to roar with pride, determination and resolve.