WEBB CITY, Mo. — Often times in the face of tragedy, you truly find out how great and impactful community support can be.
That sentiment was on full display when the Joplin Eagles visited the Webb City Cardinals on Saturday night.
The Eagles lost a member of their football family when sophomore Kadin Roberts-Day died after an indoor football practice this past Wednesday.
It was clear Saturday’s matchup had a different feeling when arriving at Cardinal Stadium. For the first time in a long time, football was a secondary concern to everyone in attendance.
“I can’t explain this feeling,” Joplin head coach Curtis Jasper said while trying to fight off his emotions. “This just shows how great of a community we have in Joplin and the rest of the area.”
Looking around, it would be hard to miss fans on both sides of the field wearing the game-day shirts designed and distributed by G&S Graphix in honor of Roberts-Day. The shirt was designed in red, Roberts-Day’s favorite color, depicting the Eagles’ logo with the initials ‘KDR’ and Roberts-Day’s jersey number 63 on the chest.
Among the many fundraisers set up all over the stadium grounds were Webb City’s cheerleaders, who organized a $1 cookie sale with all proceeds going to the Roberts-Day family. Aside from purchasing a cookie to show support, patrons were also encouraged to donate funds, and it couldn’t have been more of a success.
“We wanted to give everyone a way to help out Kadin’s family in their time of need,” Webb City cheerleader Halle Holland said. “I was so happy to see how many people were just walking up and donating money. A lot of them didn’t even want a cookie. They just wanted to help out. I was so happy that I almost started to cry seeing all of the support.”
As game time approached, Joplin was led onto the field by sophomore Kaian Roberts-Day, Kadin’s twin brother who is also on the team and carried the school flag. His mother, LaShonda Roberts, and several family members followed their son onto the field to a standing ovation.
“We are never going to forget Kadin or the Roberts-Day family,” Jasper said fighting back tears. “We wanted to honor them. I told LaShonda before the game that I have been a mess at times this week, and I have taken a lot of my strength from her in the times that I’ve talked to her. The team felt there was no one stronger to lead us on the field for this game than her and the Roberts-Day family.”
Following a prayer session on the Cardinal emblem by both teams and a moment of silence, Coach Jasper, senior Elijah Eminger, Kaian Roberts-Day, senior Isaiah Davis and senior Blake Tash all locked hands and walked to midfield as team captains. Roberts-Day and Davis clutched Kadin’s jersey.
“That meant everything to our team,” Joplin senior offensive lineman Logan Myers said. “That was a special moment we will never forget. We went through 72 hours of pure sadness, and for three hours we fought as a family for Kadin.”
In one final scheduled show of support, the Eagles opened the game with possession and lined up with 10 players on the field for the first play, leaving the tackle spot — Kadin’s position — empty. A penalty was called on Joplin and declined by Webb City to a loud cheer from the stands.
“Our hearts go out to the family, the players, the coaches and the whole Joplin High School community,” Webb City head coach John Roderique said. “From a coach’s standpoint, this is the most heartbreaking situation imaginable for a program. All of our thoughts and prayers have been with them this week.
“I truly believe that even though we are different schools, I view Joplin and Webb City, the whole area, as one big community. I think that is how you show that. It has been so uplifting and inspirational to see our students, students from all over the area and even students across the state lines show the support they have this week.”
The support for the Eagles’ program and the Roberts-Day family leading up to the game was not limited to the Joplin area. Football teams, fans, parents and students from all over the Four-State Area took to social media over the weekend to express their condolences and sympathies, proving that prep football is clearly an ever-reaching family.
“This is the greatest game in the world,” Jasper said. “It just shows you how many coaches in the area are doing it the right way. They are teaching young men and women how to be leaders in the community. This week, I leaned on my young men to carry me through this.”
As for the game, Joplin came away with a 35-28 win to improve to 2-0 on the season. It was undoubtedly the most emotional win any player or coach on the Joplin sideline had ever been a part of, and wouldn’t you know it, the final score added up to 63, Kadin’s number.
“This is the most emotional anything I have ever been a part of,” Jasper said. “I can’t even tell you how much we miss Kadin and how much he means to us. We are going to try to move forward as a team as best we can in his honor.”