FAYETTE - Fayette High School was scheduled to square off against Harrisburg High School on the gridiron Friday.
But after tragedy struck the Harrisburg community, their rival turned into an ally.
The Fayette community hosted a tailgate in memory of Harrisburg High School teacher and coach Brian Simpson.
Simpson was driving a school bus full of cross country athletes to their meet Thursday when a pickup truck driving in the wrong direction hit the school bus head on. Coach Simpson died in the crash. The athletes were taken to the hospital, but sustained minor injuries.
Simpson was a beloved history teacher, baseball coach and cross country coach.
The Fayette Athletic Boosters host a tailgate every week before the game. Despite the game cancellation, the boosters hosted the tailgate, giving all the proceeds to the Brian Simpson fund.
Brett Frerking, president of the Fayette Athletic Boosters said community members were handing him money donations before the event even started.
“It’s a sad day. We have a lot of people who are interested in being here tonight. It’s going to a great cause. We want it to help support the family, and that’s why we’re here. We’re just a community supporting another community,” said Frerking.
The tailgate usually brings in $200, but this event brought in at least $2,600.
Harrisburg canceled school today, but Fayette did not. To show support, students district-wide wore Harrisburg’s red school color.
“It’s a sad day for Harrisburg. But even for our kids to see that during game time competition is a great thing, but once the game is over its okay for communities to support other communities, schools to support other schools, because we’re all here for the same thing. It’s for family and fun,” said Frerking.
Local businesses stepped up to help with the tailgate donating money, food and paper products, imcluding Sara Lee, Sam's Club, C&R Supermarket and Breadaux Pizza. The local Dairy Queen across the street from Fayette High School also pitched in, donating all proceeds to the memorial fund from customers during a two-hour stretch Friday.
“We’re doing this because that’s what a community is. That’s what we are here. We’re a community. We should be standing up for those when they need it and supporting those when they need support,” said Dairy Queen assistant manager Ryan Beerbower.
Roger VanDeZande is the head football coach of Fayette. Previously, he taught at Harrisburg High School and knew Simpson well.
“Brian was such an amazing person, great man, very good teacher. He loved students. No matter who you were, he gave you his very best. He was that way as a coach, so I know everybody loved him there,” said VanDeZande.
Scott Hill is a senior on the football team at Harrisburg High School. He was a student of Simpson’s since middle school and a baseball player on Simpson’s team.
“He was the person I went and talk to. He was one of the realest teachers in Harrisburg. He taught me to never short myself, always do my best and he would tell me when I’m wrong and praise me when I’m right, and he was a great guy” Hill said.
Hill and more of a dozen Harrisburg football and baseball players attended the tailgate Friday.
“Fayette didn’t have to do this. They did this out of the kindness of their heart and we felt for them doing this we should come and support their cause and show our appreciation for helping us get through this hard time and bringing everybody together to celebrate what he’s done for us,” Hill said.
During their day off, Hill said Friday was a day of remembering. He said seniors set Diet Mountain Dew outside of Simpson’s classroom door because he was always seen with it.
According to VanDeZande, MSHSAA said the football game is counting this as a canceled game that will not be rescheduled.
Vice President of the Fayette Athletic Boosters April Yates said that anyone who wants to Harrisburg High School can write a check made out to the Brian Simpson Memorial Fund.