High school rivalry paused for a few moments on Thursday night at Siena College’s Alumni Recreation Center, where thousands in attendance for Shenendehowa vs. Shaker basketball games reflected in silence about the fatal car accident last month that will forever unite these two schools.
The evening featured a doubleheader of the girls and boys varsity basketball teams and served as a fundraiser for scholarships in the name of Chris Stewart and Deanna Rivers, two Shenendehowa High School students who died in a car accident on the Northway last month.
As the girls basketball game winded down, with Shaker holding a narrow lead, the hundreds of students positioned under one basket were loudly rooting for their teams like it was any given night. But even these students, who were yelling their hearts out, displayed signs of the tragedy, as many were wearing shirts in their school’s colors, blue for Shaker and green for Shenendehowa, with Rivers’ and Stewart’s initials and the phrase “We Believe.” The unity was also demonstrated by cheerleaders, who wore these shirts and ribbons the color of the opposing team.
The court was cleared after the girls game, as a ceremony was held to an almost continuous string of thunderous applause.
Students from Shenendehowa stood at center court as the parents of Rivers and Stewart were announced, recognized by the crowd and then embraced each other.
This was followed by the introduction of Shenendehowa senior Matt Hardy, the boyfriend of Rivers, who was also in the car during the accident, and his family. Hardy moved slowly on crutches and fought to hold back tears. Then Shaker senior Bailey Wind, the girlfriend of Stewart, who was also in the car, was introduced with her family. Wind, still wearing a neck brace, lost her battle to hold back tears in a prolonged embrace with her boyfriend’s father.
Once everyone was at center court, the emcee announced over the loud speaker that Wind would be presented with a football jersey with Stewart’s number, 69. Two Shenendehowa football players then proceeded to approach Wind, who covered her mouth as she choked up again and then hugged both of them before taking the jersey.
“It was very overwhelming,” Wind said after the ceremony, as she sat among friends in the first row of the Shaker side of the court. The jersey, which felt good to have and was also a little depressing to get, was a complete surprise, she said.
Thursday night was the first of many times she planed on wearing the jersey, which she said would represent Stewart. “I’ll definitely wear it all the time,” she said.
After Wind got her jersey, banners were unveiled with Rivers’ and Stewart’s numbers, which will hang in the Shenendehowa High School gymnasium.
Then Rivers’ and Stewart’s parents were each presented with $11,000 checks, money that had been raised as the result of the games to help fund their children’s scholarships.
A few minutes later it was almost like life was back to normal, with the two school’s boys varsity teams beginning their warmups.
For Wind, the return to normalcy is a hard road. “I’m getting out of shock, so reality is setting in more,” she said.
Earlier this week a 59-count indictment, which included felony aggravated vehicular homicide, was leveled against Dennis Drue, the 22-year-old Halfmoon resident who was driving the vehicle that hit the vehicle being driven by Stewart.
Shaker’s boys won the game, 65-61.