Archive for Wednesday, April 16, 2008

QB passed out many gifts before early death

April 16, 2008

Monday afternoon, between sessions at a Free State High soccer practice and Free State's 14-10 baseball victory over Olathe East, I received a phone call from my old stomping grounds.

On the other end of the line was the father of two athletes I covered during my time at the Basehor Sentinel, a weekly newspaper owned by The World Company.

Excited to hear from an old friend, but curious as to what he could be calling for, I quickly found out he was the bearer of bad news. Michael Armstrong, a former Basehor-Linwood High School quarterback whom I had covered, had passed away Monday morning in Colorado.

It seems Armstrong was in an accident Sunday night and was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. As night turned to morning, his condition worsened and he passed away early Monday morning.

The news hit me harder than I would have suspected.

I knew Michael, remembered him well. In fact, to this day he stands as one of the best athletes I've covered, both on and off the field. Immediately, my mind overflowed with memories of Armstrong's days with the Bobcats.

I remember hearing about him when he was just a freshman, waiting in the wings to take over the BLHS program. I remember what an incredible athlete he was and how he often turned sure losses into touchdowns or improbable rebounds into points. I remember his three-touchdown, 158-yard performance in the opening game of the 2004-05 season against Bonner Springs. I remembered being amazed by every yard he gained and how the 2005 BLHS graduate played every down with a smile, even the plays when he got knocked on his back.

BLHS football coach Steve Hopkins remembered it, too.

"That was the thing that made him different," Hopkins said. "He was a great athlete and he had great character, too. Some kids are just fabulous athletes but they don't enjoy the games. But Michael really did. He always had the belief that he could find a way to get the job done. And he usually did."

Michael has two younger sisters who attend BLHS. The girls and their friends weren't alone in grieving Monday at school. This year's seniors were freshmen when Armstrong was a senior. Many of them watched in awe at Michael's every spectacular play and every classy gesture.

I realize a large number of those reading this had never heard of Michael Armstrong until today. That's hardly the point. Michael Armstrong, Bob Smith, Mark Jones, whatever. The point is this: Life is short and these days it seems to be getting shorter and shorter with every generation.

The things we have and the opportunities we receive truly are gifts. And they should be looked at in that way every day. Michael always did. And although his passing is incredibly sad, my mind and heart are comforted by that thought.

A memorial fund has been set up in Michael's name at Union Bank in Bonner Springs. Those wishing to contribute to the Michael Armstrong Memorial Fund can visit the bank or mail their contributions to P.O. Box 397, Bonner Springs, KS 66012.

Bank representatives said early Tuesday they had already received a couple of donations.

The fund, like Michael, undoubtedly will go toward making the world a better place. But it's not even close to the only way he'll be remembered.

- Matt Tait, a sportswriter at the Lawrence Journal-World, is the former sports editor of the Chieftain and Sentinel.

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