High school football team gets a hand from WSU, Pullman officials

Police cars with flashing lights and traffic cones divert traffic around a bus.
Pullman Police responded within minutes as WSU and the City of Pullman demonstrated world-class hospitality to the Renton High School football program following a bus breakdown.

World class. Face to face.

It’s an old WSU tagline that rang true in Mark Cross’ mind thinking back to last month’s trip to the Palouse with more than two dozen members of the Renton High School football team that could have become a disaster.

Cross is in his third year as coach of the Red Hawks squad. He led a 28-person group that traveled across the state in April to watch the annual Crimson and Gray spring football scrimmage at Gesa Field on the Pullman campus.

As part of the visit, Cross and his team received a behind-the-scenes tour of WSU athletics facilities and he even got a chance to reunite with his one-time coach Jack Thompson while on the sidelines of Martin Stadium.

“I’m still a little upset I didn’t take chance to get a selfie,” Cross said.

Beaming from the excitement of the visit, the team boarded their chartered bus bound for the west side of Washington after the game. But before they could even pass the Pullman city limits sign, their bus came to an unexpected halt. A brief revival of forward progress was greeted with cheers, but lasted just a few moments before the bus again came to a stop on the roadside.

“Minutes after our bus broke down and was stuck in the middle of the road, Pullman Police Officer W. Winegardner and another officer arrived to the scene and ensured that we were safe,” Cross wrote in a heartfelt letter appreciation to WSU President Kirk Schulz following the incident. “Because of his actions and the willingness of others to help complete strangers, many pieces came together to alleviate our stressful situation.”

WSU’s Dean of Students Jennifer Hyatt was on her way home from a baseball game with family when she received a call concerning the plight of the stranded high schoolers. She was able to coordinate with WSU and Pullman police as well as University Recreation, Dining Services, and Intercollegiate Athletics to ensure the team and its staff were cared for as they waited to see what the next steps would be.

The Renton High School football team gathered in the end zone at Gesa Field for a group photo.
Members of the Renton High School football team enjoyed the Crimson and Gray football scrimmage before realizing it was easier to get to Pullman than it was to leave it.

“This was a case study in how WSU and the City of Pullman respond to a crisis and the importance of collaboration,” Hyatt said. “It was an incredible opportunity to be a part of these young men’s lives and get to show them what WSU and this community is all about.”

While waiting for the replacement bus to arrive from Seattle, Renton students and staff were set up in the Student Recreation Center with access to space to watch TV as well as access to table games and activities. The building was kept open beyond regular hours, as the bus to take the team home didn’t arrive until around 2 a.m. That Hyatt and Assistant Dean Heather Case — who’d been there to welcome the students to the SRC — stayed until the team boarded their return bus was particularly commendable in Cross’ mind.

“They were our guests here at the university,” Hyatt said, so we cared about their experiences and we wanted to be sure they weren’t left alone and that we got to wave goodbye to them.”

The team arrived back in Renton around 8:30 a.m. Sunday, approximately 24 hours after their trip to Pullman had begun. It’s an experience that, while containing its share of adversity, is overwhelmingly positive in Cross’s mind and will certainly be followed up with return visits in the years to come.

“Our students had a real bonding experience and that’s thanks to the people that helped us deal with some unexpended adversity,” Cross said.

It’s not the first time the Division of Student Affairs has sprung into action to help those who need it, regardless of whether they’re WSU students or not.

Back in December, WSU provided temporary emergency accommodations for residents of an apartment complex near the Pullman campus that was evacuated late at night during a police standoff. Multiple departments came together to ensure the group of evacuees received warm clothing — many were forced to leave in just their pajamas with no time to pack extra clothes — as well as food and shelter until their hotel accommodations could be set.

The do-whatever-it-takes Cougar spirit extends beyond the borders of campus and sets a tone of care that embraces students and more.

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