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'Something For Boulder To Root For': The Meaning Of Sports In The Wake Of Tragedy

D'Shawn Schwartz at a home game against Washington State last January
Carson Becker
D'Shawn Schwartz at a home game against Washington State last January.

Who remembers Mike Piazza’s famous “9/11 homerun” at the Mets first game back at Shea Stadium after the twin towers fell? Or when Japan’s women’s soccer team won the 2011 World Cup just months after an earthquake killed nearly 20,000 citizens? Or perhaps when Red Sox players proudly sported “Boston Strong” jerseys to recognize the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing?

When tragic events happen in a community, it takes a gut punch to the athletes who represent those places. But often it also inspires them to take a stand, speak out, or simply play their hearts out.

When CU Boulder basketball guard and forward D’Shawn Shwartz heard about the mass shooting in his college town on Monday, he was 1,000 miles away, gearing up for his second game of the NCAA March Madness Tournament. And although the CU Buffs ended up falling to Florida State, he was proud to represent his city in that moment and give, “something for Boulder to root for.”

KUNC’s Alana Schreiber spoke to Schwartz about this game and the larger significance of sports teams banding together and aiming for victory in the wake of tragic events.

Interview Highlights:
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Alana Schreiber: Shortly before tipoff on Monday, news broke about a shooting at a Boulder King Soopers store. How did you find that out? How did you and your teammates react to the news?

D’Shawn Schwartz: I think we all got an Amber Alert on our phones right before the game. And we didn't really talk much about it. We didn't discuss it. We were trying to focus on the matter at hand. But there was definitely a sort of vibe in the locker room that was a little bit different.

I want to talk a bit about the game itself. Although Florida State ended up winning 71 to 53, your team gave it a great fight. Looking back now, how do you think the game went on Monday? Do you think that the way that you guys played was at all impacted by the news of the shooting?

I think the game was just tough because we were so close in the first half. We ended up cutting it to one in the second half and then they made their run and we just couldn't quite get over the hump. It was it was a little unfortunate that we couldn't pull that one out for Boulder. I know it would have meant a lot for the people back home watching.

But I think when the guys hit the floor, we just kind of worry about what's at hand. Basketball is something that a lot of us have been doing all our lives. And we've had to face these challenges all year with COVID protocols and not having fans and these types of things. But we kept it in the back of our minds as we were playing. We were all heartbroken for Boulder.

What happened after the game?

Coach, well, he wasn't in the in the greatest of spirits, given the game and what happened. So he kind of just told us that with this loss and this game, we got to put everything in perspective, that there's bigger things going on in the world. It's just very unfortunate what happened. And we were all heartbroken.

There have been many moments in history when a sports feat inspires some hope after a moment of tragedy. I'm thinking about Mike Piazza's home run at the Mets first game back after 9/11, or all the runners wearing Boston strong shirts at the first Boston Marathon the year after it was bombed. And despite the news of the deadly mass shooting in your city on Monday, your team managed to play on. What message does that send?

I think it meant a lot for us to be there by March Madness. I think just playing and having something for Boulder to root for meant a lot.

You know, we all care for each other. And that's kind of what Boulder embodies as a community sticking together and fighting through hard times. And I think it's embodied through sports not only, but also as our student body and everybody else involved and the entire Boulder County. I think it shows that we’re competitors, we’re passionate, and that we care about Boulder. And that we care for the name on the front just as much as we care about the name on the back.

This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for March 25. You can find the full episode here.

KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.