STEUBENVILLE - Lee West won't run onto the field when his Big Red teammates meet Cleveland JFK at 6 p.m. today at Harding Stdium.
But the spirit of Lee Alexander West will be present when the seniors he would have played with will carry the No. 20 jersey West would have worn this year.
According to Steubenville High School senior Zach Burch, "Lee is gone but never forgotten. He is a senior like the rest of us. He should be playing his senior year of football this fall. It's sad the fire happened."
REMEMBERING LEE WEST — Steubenville High School football coach Reno Saccoccia stands next to a photo of a 15-year-old Lee Alexander West in the Harding Stadium fieldhouse. West died in a house fire in Steubenville on Jan. 31, 2012. This would be his senior year at Steubenville High School, and his teammates are remembering him throughout the football season. --- Dave Gossett
West died in a Jan. 31, 2012, fire when he was 15 years old.
"We shouldn't forget a teammate, a classmate or our brother. When we run onto the field for our first game I feel Lee will be watching all of us from above," added Burch.
"I feel like he is with us all of the time," noted teammate Bradly Newburn.
"He would have played quarterback or running back and probably safety on defense. Lee was a good friend. It is hard to talk about him in the past and to know he isn't here with us physically. But the team and coach Reno Saccoccia made the decision they wanted to keep his memory alive by bringing his jersey to the team photo, to place his name on the team roster and to ask the cheerleaders to decorate his mother's front door like they do for all of the senior players," explained Newburn.
"I credit the seniors with the idea of remembering Lee. We have Lee's photo in our team locker room at the Harding fieldhouse, and his mother does a lot to keep his memory with all of us," said Saccoccia.
"I don't think of this as a story. Our seniors grew up with Lee and wanted to keep him a part of this team. I know Lee would be another smiling face in the locker room if he was still with us. He definitely would have been playing on the football field in one of the positions," continued Saccoccia.
"I got to know him his freshman year and I knew I would be proud to be his coach. He was a pleasure to be around and he added to the team spirit. He was always a positive person all the way around all of the time. Lee was really achieving his goals academically and he was in our advanced program. Our seniors deserve all of the credit for remembering Lee this year. They decided to include Lee's family in all of the senior activities," stated Saccoccia.
Cookie West credits the team seniors and Saccoccia for remembering her son this year.
"I always said he had some pretty cool friends and young men he looked to as his brothers. It is very touching to know he is still in their hearts. I could tell by the different acts of kindness of the seniors. And, I know coach Reno made the decision to put Lee on the roster. Just to see his name on that roster is so very touching. That was a class act by coach Saccoccia," said Cookie West.
"This year will be a challenge because he would be a senior. Sometimes Lee's passing hurts so much. But there is no medicine I can take. It takes God's grace to continue day by day. But it's hard for me to talk about him in the past tense," Cookie West said.
West first knew her son would be remembered by his teammates this year when she was driving home with her younger daughter.
"I saw all of these kids in front of my house and then I realized it was the cheerleaders and several football players decorating my front door. It is a tradition for the senior football players and they came to our house. I started crying when I saw what they had done for us. And for the students to call and text me and ask me to be part of their senior events is very kind. That is what is unique about Steubenville and Big Red. They really do come together in times of trouble. This is a group of very compassionate kids," explained Cookie West.
"We consider ourselves as a big family in good times and in difficult times. I have always said Lee's passing isn't something you can put a Band-Aid on. This lasts a lifetime. But with the kindness and compassion I have seen from his friends, I know they can change the world. I know why Lee loved this city so much," she noted.
"Lee wanted to be an engineer. I am sure he would have received athletic, as well as academic, scholarships. He was an honor student at Big Red and played football, basketball and baseball. There is no doubt he would have continued his education in college. That is not an option in our home. College is what we do," she related.
Cookie West will be in Harding Stadium cheering for her beloved Big Red football team and for No. 20.
"It will be bittersweet. Lee wanted to play football for coach Saccoccia and Big Red from the time he was a little boy," Cookie West stated.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)