Skylar Lasby died of sudden cardiac arrest on the football field. And in the aftermath, the Harbaugh family rallied around the Michigan football fan.
Jeff Seidel, Detroit Free Press ColumnistSARANAC, Mich. – His heart stopped beating. Skylar Lasby was doing nothing, really, just waiting for the next drill, when he collapsed on a football field.They tried to revive him — the off-duty nurses who rushed onto the field, the pharmacist and the school’s trainer. They pushed on his chest, praying, pleading. Until the helicopter arrived.But it didn’t work. Skylar died from sudden cardiac arrest caused by a congenital heart disease on Aug. 28. He was 12 years old.And now, a silver casket was set up in the high school gym — the biggest building they could find in Saranac. About 800 people filled the bleachers for his funeral, more than half the residents in this small, rural village between Lansing and Grand Rapids. His helmet was placed on top of the casket, and he was buried wearing his No. 2 Saranac Junior High School football jersey. His family sat in the middle of the gym — about 40 of them wearing the same red T-shirt in honor of Skylar. His teammates wore their jerseys; that’s what Skylar’s family wanted.And Jack Harbaugh, father ofMichigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, was sitting in the back, tears welling in his eyes.Becky Poor, the senior pastor at the Saranac Community Church, spoke about how Skylar was a huge Michigan fan. His goal was to play football there and get drafted by the Detroit Lions. She held a football signed by Jim Harbaugh and read the inscription: “Our team’s thoughts are with you during this difficult time. Our prayers are with you – Jim Harbaugh.”Tears, more tears and HarbaughJack attended the funeral at Jim’s request, and when Poor introduced him, he handed the football to Scott Lasby, Skylar’s father, and presented a Michigan jersey to his mother, Rhonda. It was a No. 2 jersey — Skylar’s number — and featured his name on the back. “It was special,” Rhonda said. “It was wonderful.”“We broke down, of course,” Scott said. “We were both bawling our eyes out. I gave Jack a big hug. He was just super. He showed what a great father is like. He is a family man.”After the funeral, the football players formed a tunnel, the kind you see before the start of a game or at a pep rally, and the casket was taken to a hearse. Scott walked out of the gym with his right hand raised, two fingers pointed at the sky.Jack was caught up in the emotion of it. He saw the devastation in Saranac coach Andy Lytle’s eyes. He could sense the community’s profound sadness.“Do you mind if I talk to the program?” Jack asked.“Absolutely not,” Lytle said. “I think it would be good.”Saranac’s football program — from middle school to high school varsity — numbers fewer than 100 players. They all use the same practice field and everybody knows everybody. And now they were huddling up with Jack Harbaugh.Jack hadn’t planned to say anything. But he talked to the players like he was giving the most important speech of his life.“He talked about sometimes you get punched in the gut,” said Brad Hesche, one of the youth coaches. “It’s all about how you get up and lead after that. That’s what he told all the boys and that’s what resonated with me.”All of the lessons that can come from a football field, all of the things that seem like tired clichés — overcoming adversity, rallying together, helping each other — felt important in that moment. Like a road map for wading through the darkness of a real-life tragedy.Jack spoke for about 15 minutes. “It wasn’t just a short, sweet talk,” Lytle said. “He was sincere and passionate on what he was telling the program, about sticking together, captains taking the lead and everyone following those leaders. He said, ‘This is what you have to do when something like this happens. Step up to the plate and become one big family.'”Which we already were.”Jack can’t remember what he said because it was so emotional. “Driving home, it all sunk in,” he said. “The gym. The parents. The players. The message. The gym was packed. It was so moving.”Days later, Jim Harbaugh talked about it on his weekly podcast.“Just the youngster himself, I woulda loved to know him,” Jim said. “He seemed like a cool kid.”A cool kid with a cool family, really.Scott and Rhonda adopted Skylar and his two brothers eight years ago. They have three grown biological children and had hosted 12 foreign exchange students over the years. So when they found out about three brothers who were bouncing through the foster care system, going through seven homes in three years, they threw open their front door and adopted all three.Skylar seemed healthy. He had passed a physical just a week before his death and worked out constantly. He said to one teammate: “I’m getting abs!” He was going through puberty — suddenly developing muscles. He would flex tell Scott and Rhonda: “Look, I’m getting veins.”Making sense of everythingHis death doesn’t make any sense to them.“They ran a sprint and they were getting back in the line,” Scott said. “He high-fived one of his friends.” “And that’s when he went down,” Rhonda said.The Lasbys live about two miles from the school. They rushed to the practice field. “We started getting phone calls and text messages,” Rhonda said. “All they could tell us was Skylar was hurt and get down there right away.”Nurses worked on Skylar as they waited for help to arrive. One of the nurses was from Kalamazoo and was only there because she was watching her kids run in a cross-country meet. Scott said an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) was used on Skylar on the field.“I knew he was gone,” Rhonda said.“We could see it in their faces,” Scott said.Skylar was transported by helicopter to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. “We knew we were going to say goodbye,” Rhonda said.He died at the hospital, and they offered his body for organ donation. Doctors took some of his veins and bones. Skylar had congenital cardiomyophathy, a disease of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure. As many as one in 40,000 athletes die every year by sudden cardiac arrest, according to the National Institutes of Health.Holding her son Scott and Rhonda went to their first Michigan football game on Sept. 9 when the Wolverines played Army.”Heading to Ann Arbor to the Michigan game,” Scott posted on Facebook. “Nervous as hell as we’ve never been, but happy to be going … Skylar will be looking down smiling.”Rhonda took a picture of Scott at the wheel, holding up two fingers, Skylar’s number.They saw that No. 2 jersey everywhere they looked down on the field. Carlo Kemp, a senior defensive lineman, wears that number on defense and was named the defensive player of the game after a career-high nine tackles. Quarterback Shea Patterson wears it on offense, and he threw for 207 yards. And kicker Jake Moody wears that number on special teams, and he drilled a 43-yard game-winning field goal. And there was Scott, holding up two fingers, pointing at the sky.Tuesday afternoon, Rhonda sat on her back porch, clutching the jersey. “My tears are all over it,” she said.She held the jersey close to her body, wrapping her hands around it, out in the warm sunshine, as if she were holding her son.Contact Jeff Seidel: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide