By Steve Robinson | December 9, 2018 - 7:54 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

He could be seen slipping in to watch Normal Community West High School’s Wrestling team on occasion when he wasn’t serving as scorekeeper for West’s girls’ freshman Basketball team, or doing the same job for the Wildcats’ varsity Softball squad. He had no kids active in Volleyball but would wander into the gym see how the team was doing on some nights. He’d also check out a boys’ Basketball practice occasionally, too.

Yet, although Charlie Crabtree had no family currently involved with Normal West – none that played either now or in the past – he offered to volunteer in some way at the school. He wound up keeping score for the freshmen girls’ basketball team as a result.

Saturday, when Normal West’s varsity girls’ team took to the court to face Bradley-Bourbonnais High School, they were still trying to process the events that had resulted in tragedy: The collision between the freshmen basketball team bus and a semi as they returned home from a game at Champaign Central Dec.5. It was a collision that left a few girls with minor injuries that didn’t require hospitalization, and sent their coach and the bus driver to a Peoria hospital. But the crash, in addition to killing the semi driver, claimed Charlie Crabtree’s life.

Crabtree, 72, served as announcer for freshmen team home games, in addition to being scorekeeper at the squad’s away games, explained Normal West Athletic Director Stan Lewis. There was supposed to be a home junior varsity game last Thursday but it was not played. The varsity squad was the only one to suit up that night. “When you go through a situation like that, there’s some emotional trauma that goes with that,” Lewis said. He added the varsity playing Saturday’s game “is just another step to getting back into a normal flow of things.”

Eight freshmen team members were on the bus, Lewis said. He said a few junior varsity players were also on the bus because of a low number of freshmen players. As of Saturday, Lewis said Steve Price, the head coach of the freshmen team, “has had a couple of surgeries. He’s doing better.” Lewis added the bus driver, 64-year-old Mark Kuhn, also had a couple of surgeries, and “seems to be doing better as well.”

Charlie became friends with Price, Lewis said, and from there, his association with the school grew. “He was a great guy,” Lewis said of the man who had earned his living in part as a driver for First Student, the bus company that Unit 5 School District used to get kids to and from school.

“I think the thing about Charlie is, probably for a coach, the help he provided was awesome,” Lewis said. “But Charlie didn’t care if we won or lost. We could have been awful and he’d go to the coach and say, ‘man, Coach, we really hung in there today.’”

“Charlie was just loyal to our coaches and he just wanted our kids to compete and have a good time,” Lewis added. “At the end of the day, he was just glad to be here and be a part of it.”

If you stop and think about it, being there and being part of something is all any of us really want in this life regardless of how old we are. The kids were lucky to have Charlie when they did part of their teams and their lives.

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