Darren Trueblood has been on my mind quite a bit since learning of his cancer diagnosis several weeks back.
From “Man, 54 is way too young” (I’m going to be 53 in September) to “F**k cancer” (I lost my mom to lung cancer in 2010), Darren’s way-too-young passing on Wednesday is another reminder of the fragility of life.
But beyond the tragedy of a life cut short, the amazing tributes I’ve seen on social media and via text paint a picture of someone whose legacy will live on through the many lives he touched.
My memories of Darren are mostly from my time at the paper sprinkled with some youth sports stuff and finally my Shasta County Sports work.
While at the paper, I always drew the Enterprise beat during River Bowl to help my prep writer John Ryan avoid the haters (John was an Enterprise grad).
I spent a lot time getting to know Darren, his staff and players over the years – ironically the number of “kids” I covered and remained friends with is heavily skewed toward Hornets over Wolves.
As a media guy trying to pump up local sports, Darren got it. He understood what we were doing and was generous with his time and candid with his approach.
The last time I saw Darren was at a 2019 SCS preseason photo shoot. We talked a bit about our kids, how we was adjusting to U-Prep and, of course, about 2009.
The 2009 Northern Section title game remains the single-greatest/weirdest/craziest sports writing memory in part because of the action and drama that had to be seen to be believed as it unfolded, and in part because of Darren’s steely determination to make sure the officials got it right.
I remember the blocked field goal that seemingly dashed Enterprise’s shot at the title. I’d wandered in back of the west end zone on The Ridge to get a bird’s-eye view of the kick sailing either through or wide of the uprights.
I remember hearing the “thud” of the block and seeing chaos ensue. A mad scramble for the ball. Paradise players rushing the field, celebrating. Flags flying.
I remember the confusion that ensued. Calls made. Protests. Referee huddles.
And through it all, Darren stood on the muddy Om Wraith Field between the numbers and hash marks – always within earshot of his team and the midfield meeting of the refs.
For. Damn. Near. Thirty. Minutes.
Enterprise faithful will say the refs … finally … made the correct call. Paradise fans not so much.
But I will forever remember both Darren and Paradise coach Rick Prinz stalking the field waiting for a decision.
And even after the call went the Hornets’ way, they still had a small problem – a fourth-and-forever against a now-pissed off Bobcats’ team. A jump-ball Hail Mary from twins Anthony to James Williams gave the Hornets a first-and-goal with time for maybe two plays. A dive was stuffed before Anthony Williams faked the handoff on the final play, called his own number and scampered off right tackle for the victory.
It might’ve been the greatest of his four Northern Section titles, given that Enterprise had been thumped two weeks earlier.
An old-school type, I still can see Darren roaming the Enterprise Community Stadium sidelines in that “Script E” cap, no headphones and that ubiquitous pencil tucked behind his ear … choosing to rely on his notes as well as the feel and flow in front of him.
As media member, his postgame huddles – sometimes epically long – and hugs usually had me anxiously watching as my deadline slipped away. I sometimes think the postgame talk is overrated, but, later, as a coach myself, I realized the importance of letting your players know that you love and care for them.
That was never in doubt for Darren’s troops.
Nor was his victorious cry of “It’s a great day to be a Hornet” that later changed to Panther upon his move to U-Prep. I must admit that I repurposed it a bit when I coached Shasta teams against Enterprise, choosing to fire up my boys with “It’s a great day to beat a Hornet.”
And even though I was a future Shasta guy covering an Enterprise coach back in the day, Darren knew the ultimate goal wasn’t beating the Wolves or vise-verse – it was teaching life lessons to young men through sports.
His players might not have known at the time, but of all the guys I’ve remained in touch with over the years know it now. And they’re better off because of coaches like Darren Trueblood.
At the 2019 photo shoot, as Darren and I replayed that night briefly, both us at one point said “that was some night.”
It sure was, Coach.