While it’s not uncommon for high school students to gather for a pep rally to hype up their teams before the game, Friday’s pep rally at Forest High School had an extra special meaning for the players and students alike.
The pep rally was dedicated to Frank Velasquez, a 17-year-old football, soccer and track star at the school.
Velasquez was involved in a horrible accident last week where a suspected drunk driver slammed into Velasquez and his friend as they stood in a parking lot. The accident severed one of Velasquez’s legs. He has been in a medically induced coma since the accident, according to Dr. Mary Stratos, principal of Forest Hill High School.
“His personality is so much bigger than what he is on the field,” head football coach Jude Bellington said. “He was like the mayor of our school.”
Teachers, students, everyone seemed to know the friendly kid with the big smile no matter who they were on campus. “All of the teachers knew him for saying ‘Hi’ and ‘I love you’, even if he didn’t have their class,” Bellington said.
“We’re still just in shock,” said fellow football player Carlos Diaz, Jr. who has known Velasquez since sixth grade. “Why him? I guess he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
While the sadness on confusion of how this could happen is met with frustration for not being able to see or talk to their friend, the students put that all aside Friday as they filled the gym and held up signs that said “We Love Frank” and burst into chants of his name after his teammates came in the gym together hoisting his number 40 jersey and taking a knee.
“We’ll have a heavy heart, but we’re playing for Frank tonight,” Diaz, Jr. said.
“I can’t put forward to you what it meant for us to come together to celebrate who [Velazquez] is,” Stratos said. “He’s really one of the best humans we’ve had the opportunity to know.”
Stratos knows that it will take a while for her students to process why this happened and that it may be for a bigger reason than they realize. “We just have to pull together and know Frankie is still Frankie,” she said.
Velasquez has a long road of healing ahead of him. But for his fellow students, they want just want thing. “We want him to get back to school,” Diaz Jr. said. “We are all here for him, and we will be there for him every day.”
If you would like information on how you can help the Velazquez family during Frank’s recovery, please contact the school.