Tyson Wacker,16, a student and varsity football player at West Valley High School died Monday, four days after being injured when his car left the road and struck a tree. (Contributed photo).
“Live for Tyson” – that was the message West Valley head football coach Greg Grandell said a neurosurgeon gave him and the father of Eagles football player Tyson Wacker shortly before the family had to make the choice to pull the 16-year-old off life support.
“He told them ‘I can’t save your boy. But I want you to leave this place and live; live for your son and live for your wife and know that we’ve done everything we could do,’” said Grandell, the 35-year coach of the Eagles.
Tyson Wacker was injured Thursday night coming home from the gym while driving on Rhonda Road between Cottonwood and Anderson. His car left the road and struck a tree by the driver’s side door. He died Monday, according the Shasta County Coroner’s Office. He was 16.
As news of the crash spread Thursday evening, family, coaches and teammates gathered at the hospital, rallying around the junior defensive end for West Valley. A makeshift memorial of flowers, WV football clothes and an American flag sprouted up.
Friday, the team had to travel to Corning for a Northern Athletic League game against the Cardinals, a contest Corning was willing to postpone given the circumstances. The Eagles took the field with 10 players on their first defensive series, honoring their No. 8, in a 57-14 win over Corning.
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Throughout the weekend, those close to Tyson held vigil; updates were sent via social media. Sports and rivalry stopped being important.
“The football family in the area has been great,” Grandell said. “People have reached out, even hated rivals, and teams are putting ‘8’ on their helmets and finding ways to honor him. Right now, there are no colors, just family.”
As news spread Monday of his passing, the team’s focus shifted to honoring their teammate.
“We’ve always stressed that football is bigger than Xs and Os,” said senior running back and team captain Bailey Sulzer. “(Coach) Grandell said at the hospital that the only thing we want to do now is play for Tyson and bring home a win for Tyson; to be able to have ‘TW’ engraved on our (section title) rings.
“The goal for myself, Nathan (Zambrana) and Devin (Low), since we’ve been playing together has always been to win a section title ring. I always wanted to win it for me. Now I want to win it for him.”
The senior said Tyson loved to hang out with friends at Dutch Bros. and that he really loved his little brother, Ashtin. Sulzer also said Tyson was quick-witted and funny and always had a comeback if someone left the door open for razzing.
Sulzer said Tyson used his wits to get in the opponent’s head from time to time.
“We were playing Foothill and I hear him telling the guy across from him about his lunch and that he had Cheez-Its. It got to that dude, because I think he was annoyed,” Sulzer said.
He said Tyson was one of the toughest football players he’s seen.
Grandell said losing a player and teammate is not something you prepare for, but that the team, school and community have attacked the loss head on.
“This is difficult to navigate and now you have to play football on top of it,” Grandell said, adding Eric and Christine Wacker both told him to win for Tyson. “It’s been hard, yet it was neat to see people handle a situation like this. Life is hard sometimes and bad things happen to good people.
“I’m proud of our community and our boys, probably the most proud I’ve been in 35 years of coaching.”
An account to assist the Wacker family has been set up at the Cottonwood Tri Counties Bank. Persons wishing to donate can do so in person at the bank, or by mail at P.O. Box 410, Cottonwood, CA, 96022. Checks can be made payable to Eric Wacker.
Details of a celebration of life for Tyson Wacker are coming.
The task of bringing home a section title ring for Tyson is a journey that continues with the Eagles traveling to Susanville for a battle with Lassen and the Northern Athletic League title on the line. Should West Valley beat Lassen, the Eagles could secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over CV. It’s possible for the Eagles to win a section title for themselves and their teammate on the fields they’ve played on since youth football days.
“Even though this is a tough thing, it will bring us together as a team and community,” Sulzer said. “It’s a very difficult thing, but you have to look at the things you can bring out of it.”