When the Chestnut Ridge wrestling team takes the mat, the wrestlers point skyward. Their T-shirts have this printed on them: ALL IN B.JC. 2011.
Thoughts and images of Brian Corle are never far from the minds of the Lions and their fans.
Corle, a football team captain who would have been a key member of this year's wrestling team, died in a one-vehicle accident on the night of Oct. 13 when his truck left the wet roadway in West St. Clair Township and struck an embankment.
There's also a billboard not far from the school with a wrestling team photo and a big picture of him. A miniature version of the billboard hangs just above the entrance to Richard W. Fisher Gymnasium. There's also stickers on their headgear honoring Corle.
"We wanted to do a bunch of different things," Ridge coach Greg Lazor said.
Lazor got advice from Claysburg-Kimmel coach Dave Marko on how to handle the situation. C-K, of course, went through something similar last year when Kristen Aungst, a cheerleader, team manager and sister of wrestler Corey Aungst, died in a vehicle accident before the season started.
"He said that it was going to be hard, and there are going to be a lot of situations where people are thinking about Brian," Lazor said. "We decided that we were going to act as if he's still with us. We're not going to move on without him. We're going to live with him in a new way.
"The boys miss him. Everyone misses him. We were very careful about setting unrealistic goals of 'We're going to do this for Brian.' The only thing he would want is for everybody to give their all. We made that our goal."
That terrible night
Oct. 13 was a Thursday, the day before the Lions' homecoming football game. The players were at Logan Kensinger's house that night for a pregame party.
Matt Dull, a cousin to the 17-year-old Corle and a member of the football and wrestling team, talked to him a little bit at the party, but he didn't get a chance to say goodbye.
Dull went home and was sleeping that night at 10 when his mom woke him up crying and telling him the bad news.
"It was hard to take," Dull said. "I had just seen him that night."
At around the same time, Kavan Holderbaum, another cousin and wrestling teammate of Corle, got a call from his aunt and uncle about the news.
"It was hard to believe at first," he said. "I just couldn't even imagine what happened."
An emotional Holderbaum awakened Lazor at about 2:30 in the morning with a phone call and told the coach that the senior had died in the accident.
"It was hard for him to get it out. I couldn't believe it," Lazor said. "I went to the living room and sat in a chair the rest of the night. We had an in-service day the next day, and that was a relief. I broke down and cried several times during the day. It was probably a week before I could go without breaking down."
He was well-liked
Corle was a popular, fun-loving teenager at Chestnut Ridge, so the news hit everybody in the school hard. The funeral at God's Missionary Church in Alum Bank was filled with family, friends, classmates and competitors from other schools.
"The church wasn't the biggest," Ridge junior Tyler Dibert said, "and it was packed. Brian left an impression on everybody he met. I think the community took it like we did."
"He was a very well-liked kid," Lazor said. "He got along with everybody. I never heard a bad thing about him."
Corle was a two-year starter who went 18-11 last season for the Lions. He was a leader as an underclassman, and he wasn't afraid to speak his mind in practice if somebody was screwing up.
But Dibert said that's not what he'll remember most about Corle.
"I'll probably remember that smile he always had on his face," he said. "Just walking around school, he had a smile that lit up a room. He had a positive outlook on things, and that's what I'll remember most about him."
The Lions knew it would be hard going through the season without Corle, especially early in the season, but Lazor credits Holderbaum and Dull with leading the team through the difficult times.
"The thing that helped with the transition were the way Kavan Holderbaum and Matt Dull handled it," Lazor said. "Too see them move on positively and accept it allowed the other guys to see it was okay to continue. They've done an unbelievable job of leading us through this."
Holderbaum and Dull, however, deflected the praise.
"Me and Matt were the closest to him because we were first cousins," Holderbaum said, "but it's definitely a team effort. We're not the biggest leaders in the room. Ty Dibert does a big part of it."
"I'm doing my best and pushing through it," Dull said. "He's with us all the time. I do see me and Kavan leading, but other guys on the team push the same way. Shane [Pfaunmiller] is the same way. We use it as a fire to push us."
The team decided before the season how to remember Corle. The wrestlers credit Lazor for thinking of the shirts and headgear, and the boosters paid for the billboard. The cousins thought about the finger in the air before the season-opener against Hyndman.
"We're missing him, but we're continuing on and understanding there's still a life to live," Lazor said. "It's not something we use as a rah, rah type of thing. Sometimes somebody will say Brian would have loved that match or something like that, but we never use it as a motivational thing."
Lions doing well
Ridge is 14-4 and ranked second in the Mirror rankings. One of its wins was over Claysburg-Kimmel, which presented the Corle family with flowers and a moment of silence before the match at C-K.
"I thought that was a real class act by Claysburg," Lazor said.
Lazor says the community support for the team has been great. To give back, the wrestlers through shirts to the fans after a pin.
"They support us so that he wouldn't be forgotten," Dibert said.
It's been three months since the accident. That's not a lot of time to recover, so the Lions were asked if it was getting any easier to move on.
"I don't know if it's easier," Lazor said. "We're more used to it. We live with him in a new way. We're more comfortable with it."
"I think just like with anything like that, it has become easier," Dibert said, "but it definitely sends chills down your back talking about it."
Had he not gotten into the accident, Corle would have been doing what his teammates are doing now - pointing toward the District 5 Duals and the postseason.
"He would have really enjoyed himself," Holderbaum said. "He was a hard-working kid who would have had a good time."
"He was a pretty good wrestler," Lazor said. "I think he would have been a regional-caliber type of kid this year. He was very hard-nosed, and he was one of those kids who was a real scrapper. Sometimes he scrapped too hard and got into a bad situation on the mat, but it was never for a lack of effort."