RAF ALCONBURY — Alconbury High School senior wrestlers Adam Tate and Kendrick Collins started this season with their eyes on the prize: a Division IV title for the Dragons and aspirations of a European crown.
But a recent tragedy that struck the squad has cast the season in a new light. Now, the talented student- athletes on the cusp of adulthood know there is more to life than pins, reversals and takedowns.
While driving his three children to school Jan. 10, second-year coach Mark Hanssen was involved in a head-on collision with a British driver. Hanssen, 40, suffered injuries to his face. His two daughters, ages 2 and 10, had serious but nonlife-threatening injuries, according to the Cambridgeshire constabulary. Hanssen’s 7-year-old son suffered serious spinal damage, according to the constabulary.
The accident reminded the tight-knit Alconbury community of the fragility of life, students said.
“No matter what you do, something can happen to you at any minute,” Collins said moments before the team took the mat for a practice session leading up to last weekend’s match at Lakenheath High School. “You just hope that you’ve lived your life well, that you’ve done something significant and that people will mourn for you.”
Longtime assistant coach Rodney Lucas, who serves as a master sergeant with the 423rd Civil Engineering Squadron, said the team remains focused on its goal, but that the squad’s heart is with the Hanssen family.
“Last week in Brussels, the focus was not on wrestling but on Mark and his family,” Lucas said. “We’re just hoping and praying that it all turns out all right.”
Alconbury High School principal Gael Coyle said the entire community has rallied around the Hanssen clan.
“The community here has been outstanding. From the people at the chapel, family services, the child development center, the students and the teachers, we could not ask for more supportive people,” she said.
Efforts to reach the Hanssens last week were unsuccessful. The accident remains under investigation by the Cambridgeshire Constabulary.
Tate said the incident has taught him about overcoming adversity.
“We are all upset about coach, but right now we’ve got to keep wrestling because we know that’s what he would want us to do,” he said.
His fellow senior agreed.
“We always fight hard for our coaches, but now it’s different,” Collins said. “Now there’s more emphasis to do it for him. It means more.”
Lucas said the accident is the lone blight on what had been an otherwise stellar campaign for the Dragons.
“In the past five or six years we’ve built a pretty solid program out here,” he said. “And with the quality of kids we have this year, we should compete for a Division IV title.”
The squad is blessed with talent across the weight spectrum. Tate’s a tough load to handle at the 171-pound slot while Collins holds down the 151-pound position. Junior Jamie Samudio is tough to top at the 160-pound slot while freshman Tyler Lucas is a fierce competitor at the 119-pound position.
Both Samudio and Tate transferred to Alconbury this year following the closure of London Central High School at the end of last school year, Lucas said.