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Publish date: Sep 23, 2011

Western New Mexico bounces back after bus fire

By Brian Kortz
For NCAA.org

Everybody involved with the Western New Mexico football team is looking forward to a normal weekend after a near disaster last Friday en route to a game against Fort Lewis.

“I stopped at Sports Authority to get a few things for the game and in the process we let everyone else go ahead saying ‘We will just catch up with you,’ ” head coach Adam Clark said. “I never thought I would get the call I would just moments later.”

That call came from coach David Hubbard, who was driving right behind the bus near Bloomfield, Colo., and noticed sparks coming off the back.

The Western New Mexico football team's bus caught fire on its way to play a game at Fort Lewis.

“I was actually asleep when coach Ronnie McDougle woke me up saying ‘Look at this,’ ” Hubbard said. “I woke up to see the tire flying off and thought the bus was pulling over, but it kept going for a little bit until it came completely off.”

The driver pulled off the road to see what was going on. Smoke began to fill the bus.

“I was asleep when a teammate woke me up,” said junior Kameron Drawhorn. “When I woke up, being in the back of the bus I could see the smoke filling up and knew we had to get off.”

Like Drawhorn, junior Anthony Phillips was also asleep when he was awakened by a teammate telling him something wasn’t right.

“I remember hearing some teammates saying ‘There is smoke on the bus, there is smoke on the bus,’ ” Phillips said. “I just knew at that point it didn’t matter about our personal belongings, it was all about getting everyone of the bus safely.”

While the players were scrambling to safety, head coach Clark was trying to adjust to what he had just heard.

“After I got off the phone with (Hubbard), I had to hang up and just get everything figured out in my head that this was all going on before I called him back,” Clark said. “At that point, I called back knowing that it was really going on, as I could see the smoke in the air from several miles away and at that point, it was all about just making sure that everyone was OK.”

Head Coach Adam Clark could see the smoke from miles away.

With the players eventually off the bus, it became time to reflect on what was exactly happening.

“I was just in complete shock that it was really burning,” Drawhorn said. “I just feel blessed and thank God that we all made it off OK, as personal items are replaceable.”

“I just remember standing out there watching it burn down,” Hubbard said. “You see it only happening in the movies, but it was really happening right in front of me and I just couldn’t believe it; never been a part of anything like this before.”

The fire destroyed equipment and personal belongings, but Clark had to keep the logistics in order.

“I talked with coach Mark Coleman and President Joseph Shepard about everything and then had to make sure we had another bus ride and that we could actually play the game Saturday,” he said.

The Mustangs were helped along the way by people of Bloomfield. They provided a school bus to take the team to the school cafeteria and allowed players to get some food while watching a volleyball tournament at the high school.

“Bloomfield Principal Cody Diehl did a great job in taking care of us,” Clark said. “They brought us into their school and gave us time to get everything together before proceeding on to Durango that night.”

The team finally made it to Durango in the early morning hours Saturday.  The players had a quick curfew and the coaching staff got the essentials to replace what was lost on the bus.

Equipment also came in from all over. That included other equipment that was still at Western New Mexico that was brought up to Albuquerque by the golf team, which was on its way to Alamosa. Durango High School added helmets and shoulder pads, while cleats were brought in by Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Commissioner J.R. Smith.

“Everyone really came through in a tough situation,” Clark said. “Fort Lewis let us push the game back so that we had some time to hopefully get everything to the field in time for kickoff.”

Even with the delayed start, the Mustangs still were on the field only 30 minutes before kickoff.

Equipment and supplies came from a variety of places to replace what was lost in the blaze.

“We are usually out on the field 50 to 55 minutes before kickoff, so getting out that late pushed us further behind on preparing for the game,” Clark said. “But we were all ready to go at that point, as I think most of us were running on adrenaline.”

“I think we were all just able to put it aside and play the game,” Drawhorn said. “Once we all knew that the game was going to be played, we were all excited and just ready to go.”

The game was close, but the Mustangs came through with big plays in the fourth quarter to pull out an important 26-17 win.

“I just kept thinking how big this game was, not only to win to help us this season, but even more so with what happened,” Clark said. “I could only imagine how tough it would have been riding back with a loss, so it felt so much better to be on the bus with a victory.”

Clark hoped the experience left a mark on the players.

“I hope this goes down as a lasting memory for all of them and how well they handled the situation,” Clark said. “They fought through a tough situation that arose and came out on the other side ready to go.”

The Athletic Fire Relief Fund has been established to help the team. For more information, contact athletics assistant Alma Arellano at (575) 538-6223 or  arellanoa@wnmu.edu.

As for this weekend, the Mustangs won’t have to worry about a bus. They host Colorado School of Mines on Saturday.

Brian Kortz is assistant athletics director/media relations at Western New Mexico.