Rainbows part of NIU healing process
Northern Illinois gets Hawaii’s help in recovering from tragedy
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The game of life often overshadowed the game of baseball last week when competition took a back seat to compassion at the Coca-Cola Classic college tournament in Surprise, Ariz.
Hawaii was part of the healing process for Northern Illinois, which opened its season two weeks after a shooting on campus left five dead and 17 others injured.
"It was just the right thing to do," said UH head coach Mike Trapasso.
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SURPRISE, Ariz. » Despite a disappointing showing in the Coca-Coca Classic College Baseball Tournament, Hawaii's participation was more than gratifying.
That's because the Rainbows and other parties reached out to Northern Illinois University in the Huskies' greatest time of need.
Following the tragic Feb. 14 campus shooting, which left five dead and 17 others injured, college life came to an instant halt. Athletic and social programs were canceled and university officials announced plans to raze Cole Hall, site of the shootings.
The Huskies' baseball team was scheduled to play Texas Tech on Feb. 22-24, in Lubbock, Texas, but that series was canceled. Then participants in the Coca-Cola tournament opened their arms and wallets to the Huskies.
"In that situation, it was just the right thing to do," said Rainbows head coach Mike Trapasso. "Our school was happy to participate in any way we could. Plus, our players were anxious to play baseball, and glad we could help in the healing process."
Host Arizona State was instrumental in arranging for Northern Illinois' participation, but also Hawaii and the University of Portland were flexible in accommodating the Huskies on very short notice.
After the Texas Tech games were canceled, NIU coach Ed Mathey called Pat Murphy, baseball coach at Arizona State, and asked if anything could be done to fit the Huskies in the tournament. Murphy immediately said the host Sun Devils would do what it took for the Huskies to arrive in Surprise and play baseball.
"There were considerable hurdles to get this thing done," said John Flanagan, ASU's director of baseball operations. "Murphy put everything aside to make Northern Illinois feel special. Maybe the biggest aspect was financial, but all the parties worked together to make this happen."
After arrangements were finalized by late last Monday night, the Huskies jumped on a plane to Phoenix on Tuesday and played a doubleheader Thursday. The city of Surprise, with money in its recreation budget, quickly found hotel space and supplied meals, while a local car dealership provided vans so the school could save on transportation costs.
Major League Baseball also participated in the healing process.
To honor the school, the home state Chicago White Sox decided to wear Northern Illinois caps for their first spring training game and invited the team, collectively, to throw out the first pitch of the Sox spring opener last Wednesday against Colorado in Tucson, Ariz.
"Despite a billion-dollar industry, we are a very close-knit family," said Jon Daniels, general manager of the Texas Rangers. "If a member of our family is struggling like Northern Illinois, what we did became the least we could do."
The Rangers and Kansas City Royals, co-occupants of the Surprise Recreation campus, made the 10,714-seat Surprise Stadium available for extra games and arranged for use of practice facilities, such as batting cages and minor league fields.
In addition to assisting Northern Illinois, Trapasso came away from this desert enclave energized for future visits.
"This was a great experience for us and a terrific tournament," he added. "We are booked for early-season games through the next two years, but I told Murphy, I'll be calling him about future years. We hope to be back here as soon as possible.
"Plus, we were happy to help out Northern Illinois in any way possible."