By MARINA WATERS
Signs donning inspirational messages like, “Keep on living” and “Boone Strong” are plastered throughout Daniel Boone High School. And now, the student who inspired a group of young girls, an entire school, the community and even other volleyball teams throughout the state will be remembered in the common area at Boone. There, a picture of the junior volleyball player, Kaylee Rabun, who lost her life in September following a car crash, will be on display in memory of the student.
Principal Tim Campbell said the school wanted to display Rabun’s picture so she could be with her graduating class, the class of 2018, throughout the upcoming school year. On the morning of Wednesday, May 24, just three days after the 2017 senior class walked across the stage at graduation, the picture was ready to set watch over the volleyball team as they came together during the small gathering to honor Rabun.
But for the girls who lost their friend and teammate in the middle of their season, it was bitter sweet remembering the girl they described as “outgoing” and “always smiling”.
“Losing her halfway through the season wasn’t easy by any means,” Boone senior volleyball player Sara Humphrey said. “That’s a difficult situation just for anybody and how we had to go through half a season without her is just something that we never would have expected; no one would expect. We’d never not had her in a game. She had never been hurt, anything. She always played her heart out. She put her whole heart into that game. And that’s all we could have asked for.”
Not only did remembering Rabun bring back memories of time spent with their teammate, but it also brought back the Lady Trailblazer’s first game after losing the junior setter when they defeated Dobyns-Bennett in a five-match game.
“We all second guessed playing that D-B game. We all did. It’s like the Unicoi game that Monday (after Kaylee died.) We didn’t play that game and we all sat and talked about if we should play the D-B game. We all knew it was going to be hard, but she’d want us to. I’d say she’d probably be mad at us if we didn’t play it,” Humphrey said, laughing at the thought. “We all knew we had to do it.”
The team made the decision to take on Dobyns-Bennett, but they wouldn’t do so without honoring their fallen teammate; Rabun’s name was announced along with her teammates’ as the game began. The team also played the first three points with five players on the court—the sixth being Rabun.
“That’s a feeling that’s just indescribable. It just is,” Humphrey said. “Yeah, we played with five players, but at the end of the day, we all know she was there playing with us. We all knew she was holding our hand when we called names and stuff. We all knew she was there, not the way we wanted her to be there, but we all knew she was there.”
Once the Lady Trailblazers clinched the win, a sea of purple (Rabun’s favorite color) flooded the court shouting Rabun’s number in celebration of the win and the junior’s memory.
“I have been to a lot of games in my life,” Boone Volleyball Coach Chelsea Spivey said. “That is the biggest game of my entire life. And as a coach, it is indescribable to explain how much support we had from the community. Especially after we won when everyone rushed the floor and everyone was yelling, ‘Three! Three! Three! Three!” It just makes my blood rush now just thinking about how much support we’ve had from the community, from our administration, from the school.
“There were people that have never been to a volleyball game and came to that game just to support. Kaylee had a big impact.”
In remembering that game and the team’s season that landed them second in the Big 7 Conference and on to regionals, the group also thought back on how Rabun’s death effected each of them and motivated them to do better—for Rabun and for one another.
“I think the reason we started playing changed was we used to play like, ‘Hey we want to win, we want to be first in the conference.’ We played for ourselves. But after that happened, we started playing for a whole new reason,” senior volleyball player Mackenzie Carrier said. “We started playing for her. We started playing for our coach. We started playing for each other. We started playing for everybody because that’s the way we overcame what we were going through—we just played it on that court and we just did it that way.”
That lesson lasted them throughout the season, but it will also last them a lifetime; in addition to the motivation to “play their hearts out”, now the girls also see the true value in life and loving one another.
“Don’t take life for granted. And don’t take people for granted,” Humphrey said, thinking on what she learned from losing Rabun. “At the end of the day, you can be mad at somebody all you want, but you never know when it’s their last day.”
As for Spivey, the experience has forever changed her perspective on coaching.
“Injuries are nothing. Whenever people say they’re hurt, they’re out for the season. Some people are done forever. So in that perspective for me as a coach, an injury, that’s okay, you’re going to overcome an injury,” Spivey said. “But faced with this, it’s life changing as a coach. And I’m sure as players. You never know whenever you’re going to have to face this.”
Spivey also thought back on the impact Rabun had on the team, the community and even other teams after her passing. Through her and her team’s experience in losing a teammate and friend, she’s still hoping the experience shows other squads the value of a team that’s actually more like family.
“They are strong girls, especially through everything they’ve been through this season. They came out so strong,” Spivey said. “I could not ask for a better team to have to go through all of this with. They definitely showed that we could come together as a family and I hope that we can show other teams that your team is a family. Even when times are tough, you’ve got to come closer.”
Not only did Spivey want to honor Rabun with a team get-together and picture now on display in the Boone lunch area, but she also wanted to give an overdue thank you to the community.
“Everywhere I go, I just see ‘Boone Strong’ shirts. And every time I see a Boone Strong shirt in the purple and gray writing, I just want to be like, ‘Thank you for your support.’”
“I realize that I’m not able to tell the community thank you, but I feel like through you all (the media), I can say thank you. I can say thank you for all the gifts, I can thank Science Hill for buying us jerseys to play D-B that night, I can thank D-B and everybody for buying ribbons, buying shirts just to try to show us their support through that stuff. So I would like to say thank you to everyone that supported us.”
From time to time, a purple “Boone Strong” shirt can still be spotted in a crowd and if you drive through the Boone parking lot, a light purple parking spot with “KR” in large white writing still sets among the other student spots.
Now, the photo of Rabun will memorialize the healing and growth a team, school and community experienced in just one year. But for some, it brings peace of mind just knowing their friend is still there.
“It’s like Kaylee, before this, she was here,” senior volleyball player Kaitlyn Harville said. “But now, she’s really here. You can see her still.”