The Boron High football team met Wednesday afternoon and decided to honor Vinnie Rodriguez the best way it knows how: by playing on.
The Bobcats voted unanimously to proceed with Friday's road game against Lake Isabella Kern Valley after the death of Rodriguez, 16, a sophomore running back and safety who succumbed Tuesday night to head injuries suffered last Friday during a game against California School for the Deaf Riverside.
"The kids want to play for Vinnie," Boron Athletic Director Jim Boghosian said. "That's what he would want."
Coach Todd Fink said he at first told his players that he intended to call off the game but was overruled.
"They kind of sat there in silence for a minute and then one of them said, 'We decided on Saturday when we met originally that for better or worse, we're going to play this game. We made this decision a long time ago,' " Fink said. "A couple more of them spoke up and added to those sentiments, and it gave me enough of a feeling that emotionally we're ready to play.
"We still may have a couple of kids who are not up to it and might not play in this game, and we support those kids fully. It's a tough decision."
Boron will hold a spaghetti dinner fundraiser tonight in the school cafeteria to help defray Rodriguez's medical expenses. His grandmother was the guardian for him and his three younger brothers. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Rodriguez had been in critical condition and in intensive care at Loma Linda Medical Center after sustaining the injuries while making a tackle. He appeared to stabilize before taking a turn for the worse Tuesday night.
Fink described Rodriguez as a 5-foot-5, 135-pound whirlwind who embodied the spirit of the Bobcats, a small-school team that packs a wallop.
"I guarantee anyone who's been hit by him is not going to believe he's 5-5, 135," Fink said Tuesday afternoon.
This week, Boron students affixed pink and orange ribbons to a fence at the school forming a heart alongside Rodriguez's jersey number and first initial. Below lay a bouquet of flowers, a candle, an angel figurine and a book of prayers and promises.
Fink had asked that football players not be interviewed by the media.
Standing near the makeshift memorial Tuesday, student Laynah Fealy, a senior, described Rodriguez as "hyper" and "light-hearted," though there was nothing fluffy about his play.
"He was one of our best hitters, and he was the smallest guy," Fealy said.
Rodriguez scored two touchdowns during the Bobcats' season-opening 21-18 victory over Rosamond and was elected a weekly captain going into last Friday's game.
"We've never had a better practice player than him, the way he steps on the field and approaches it," Fink said of his team's second-leading rusher. "Everything he does is 100 miles an hour. We've got to slow him down at times."
By all accounts, Rodriguez was injured on what appeared to be a routine play.
He made a tackle early in the fourth quarter, then came off the field and sat on the bench.
"He sat next to an assistant coach and all of a sudden he got real wobbly and fell to the ground," Boghosian said.
Having sustained an apparent head injury, Rodriguez then suffered the first of several seizures. The ambulance assigned to the game had been dispatched to an accident about 20 miles away, Boghosian said, so an emergency medical technician who was helping to run the down markers came over to give first aid to Rodriguez.
When it became apparent that Rodriguez was gravely injured, officials called the game with about eight minutes remaining. A helicopter landed on the field and transported Rodriguez to the hospital, where he underwent surgery to relieve swelling in his brain.
After practice Tuesday, Fink said his players were struggling to deal with the situation.
"I don't think that anybody prepares themselves for something like this or that there's a handbook on how to cope with something like this," he said. "You don't want to see a family member go down at any time, and that's what happened."