After the Sabetha, Kansas high school football team won the state 3A football championship Saturday, the small town of 2,600 was rocked by the news that three of its residents — three family members of two brothers on the team — were killed in a head-on collision with another vehicle after the game on their way home.
The team was jubilant in winning the school’s first state football championship in 20 years. Following Coach Garret Michael’s slogan “Faith, Family, and Football,” they had won 7 – 6 over their opponent Marysville.
According to Michael, the order of the three words is not random.
“I just wanted our kids to know this game of football is going to be over for most of them in four years,” Michael told the Topeka Capital-Journal. He also credited his father, Tom, as well as former Sabetha coach John Garber for instilling the values on which he’s based his program.
“I want them to be good Christian men, good husbands, good fathers because you’re going to be that for 40, 50 years of your life and maybe play this game for four, eight years. I want them to make sure they have their priorities in life straight. And that was from day one when we took over and I’m glad we did that,” he told the newspaper.
The bus ride home and a stop for a meal gave them plenty of time and the opportunity to communicate their win to friends and family via social media. The team had just gotten back on the road when Michael received a call from the school’s athletic director.
Hanging up his cell phone, he then called Tanner and Carson Ukele, two of his starters, to the front of the bus. Michael then informed the brothers that their mother, sister, uncle, and father had been in an accident on the way back to Sabetha after watching the game.
Michael then told the rest of the team what happened and the Ukele brothers asked the coach to pray with them.
On a day where the Sabetha team had shown it was the best in the state, faith and family had come first.
“There’s nothing that goes above that,” Michael told television station KMBC.
The boy’s mother Carmen Ukele, 42, the boys’ sister, Marlee, 11, and uncle Stephen, 62, died at the scene. The boy’s father Lee, 59, was transported to a Kansas City hospital, where he is in stable condition.
“For the rest of their lives, this day will be a high and will be a low for them,” Michael said.
The coach said the boys will return to school this week and he also expects them to be on the school’s wrestling team.
“Tanner and Carson are both wrestlers and we have quite a bit of wrestlers on our football team, and quite a bit of basketball players, too,” Michael told the paper. “They’ve got 50 brothers who are going to be surrounding them in our school. We’re going to give them room and go one day at a time, 10 minutes at a time, whatever they need — we’ll be here to support them,” Coach Michael said.
He also said, overall, it’s a time to remember the Ukele family and to have faith.
“I just hope that people understand that that’s what we’re going to lean on,” Michael told KMBC. “The only way we can get through things like this is to have hope and to have faith.”
CBN News reached out to Coach Michael who declined our request for an interview.
The high school’s principal Sheri Harmer said they are now focused on honoring the family. Funerals for the family members are scheduled for Friday, Saturday, and Monday.