Beaver Falls football rallies around trainer touched by coronavirus tragedy

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Wednesday, December 2, 2020 | 4:43 PM


As an athletic trainer for high school sports teams, Dan Summers made it his responsibility to keep Beaver Falls football players safe from coronavirus. Hand sanitizer was taped to the back of his golf cart, and he used a water sprayer to cool athletes from a safe distance during practice.

What Summers couldn’t anticipate was how much his job would comfort him when the virus struck his family.

“They’re a special group of kids,” said Summers, who then quickly corrected himself. “I mean young men. I wouldn’t say ‘kids’ because they’ve grown up so much and dealt with so much this year because of covid.”

When Beaver Falls won the WPIAL football championship Nov. 14, coach Nick Nardone and his players called Summers into their postgame huddle. They handed him a game ball signed by the team, a teary-eyed moment of appreciation added to an already emotional celebration.

Summers’ father Thomas died a few days earlier while hospitalized with covid-19. A retired Marine from Rochester, the 78-year-old passed on Veterans Day.

Summers’ mother Elizabeth fought off her coronavirus infection and recovered. But his father’s condition worsened days after his Oct. 25 diagnosis. He was hospitalized on a ventilator at UPMC Passavant.

Summers went about his trainer duties and tried to keep that information from the players, but they slowly learned what was happening.

“A couple of the kids were coming into my room to get taped, and they saw me crying,” Summers said. “They heard me on the phone. I was trying to hide it from them because I didn’t want to distract them from their goal of winning. I didn’t want to take anything away from them.”

Beaver Falls defeated Sto-Rox, 43-30, in the WPIAL Class 2A championship at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium. It was a great accomplishment for a team that went 1-8 just three years earlier.

Summers has worked as Beaver Falls’ trainer for five years, so he saw the team’s rise.

“You’re part of the family, brother,” Nardone told Summers after handing him the football. “We take care of our own. We love you and everything you do for us. We know you know that, but we wanted to make sure.”

Said Summers: “I’ll put it on the mantle and think of my dad every time I see it.”

Summers is the youngest of five siblings, and he and his wife, Jamie, have two young children at home. But the Beaver Falls football team, especially this year’s senior class, had also become much like family to him.

“It’s great to see them succeed,” Summers said. “I have a diverse group of kids over there. With some, you act as a friend. Some, you act as a mentor. It helped me because I was able to worry about my dad but also concentrate on keeping those kids safe and healthy.”

Summers couldn’t visit his father in the hospital because of covid-19 regulations. Instead, he talked with the nurses multiple times daily, often four times a day. The nurses had a tablet computer they could take into the room.

“For the last two hours of my dad’s life, I got to see his face and talk to him,” Summers said. “You could just see that he was fading. We said, ‘Dad, it’s OK. You’ve done everything you possibly could. We love you. We’ll see you in heaven.’”

Along with serving in the Marines, his father was a crane operator for Dravo Corp. for nearly three decades and a volunteer fire fighter.

“He’s the toughest person I ever met,” he said. “He fought to the end.”

Summers admits he wasn’t immediately in favor of schools playing football this fall. There was too much unknown about an unpredictable virus. But starting in May, he talked almost daily with Nardone and athletic director Jim Carbone.

They’d talk even on weekends if one of them had new information or a novel idea. They worked in conjunction with team physician Dr. Jonathan McKrell.

“We would sit down and say, ‘This is what the CDC is saying. This is what the state is saying. This is the National Federation of State High School Associations standard.’ We’d sit there, read and try to figure out how to incorporate those into Beaver Falls’ policy,” Summers said.

By following those strict guidelines, the team played all fall without issue. There were a couple of instances where players needed to quarantine after a family member tested positive, he said, but the team’s active players avoided infection. To Summers, that was a major victory, seeing first-hand how tragic that outcome can be.

In the WPIAL championship, Beaver Falls scored six touchdowns. Josh Hough scored twice, and teammates Shileak Livingston, Quadir Thomas, Mekhi Clark and Jaren Brickner scored the others.

After reaching the end zone, the players would find Summers and honor his father.

“Every kid that scored did that, not just one,” Summers said. “And when the game was about to end and we got to kneel on the ball, a couple of kids came up and said: ‘That’s for your dad.’”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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