Thursday night's boys soccer game between Hilton Head Island High and Bluffton High may not mean much as far as standings go. Both teams have locked up playoff spots and are approaching this game as a final tune-up.
But as with every rivalry game, there is more at stake than postseason preparation. This game's meaning will go beyond even that. The contest will serve as a memorial to the lives of two Hilton Head students killed in a March 28 car crash, both former teammates of and friends with many of the players that will be on the Bluffton High field.
Cesar Herrera, 17, and Cory Rocha, 18, were killed when a car driven by Ramon Morales, 17, struck a tree on the way to school. Morales and another passenger, Michelle Alvares, 16, were injured in the crash. Hilton Head Island coach Wayne Quinlan said each of the three boys played junior varsity soccer at the school for a time, growing up and playing alongside many members of the current team. The tragedy hit the group especially hard.
"Our kids were really affected by this," Quinlan said. "What's going to take place tomorrow is important and meaningful, but we've had something a little extra to play for."
The game will serve not only as a memorial, but an opportunity for fans to make donations to help the families of the accident victims. Quinlan and Bluffton coach Josh Fox hope that the game will serve as an opportunity for the two rivals show their support for each other.
"I have a handful of guys who knew those boys," Fox said. "They understand it and they understand why we're doing what we're doing."
Quinlan said he is proud of the way his team has persevered throughout the year, and of the way his team has formed a tight bond unlike any other squad he's coached.
"I've been at this for 32 years, and I've not seen a team or had a team that's had to deal with any tragedy of this magnitude," Quinlan said. "No families should have to go through this. No team should have to go through this. Our team has hugged more and cried more and prayed together more than any team I've ever had. Those things have helped us through this tragedy. Without each other, I don't know what would have happened."
The game will begin at 7 p.m. at Bluffton High School.