The smiles on the faces of the players on the Stoughton High football team were radiant and contagious Friday night as they celebrated with cheers and hugs following their convincing 25-6 victory over visiting Mansfield.
Less than 24 hours later, their cheers turned suddenly to tears after they learned that one of their own, 17-year-old senior David Wade, had died after being shot in the chest by his 21-year-old brother, Michael, in the basement of their home. No charges have been filed in the shooting, which is still under investigation.
The Black Knights, 4-0 after their defeat of perennial Hockomock League power Mansfield, will host Foxborough Friday night. But they will do so with extremely heavy hearts, with the wake for Wade scheduled for Thursday afternoon at Farley Funeral Home. His funeral service will be held Friday morning at St. James Church.
“For me personally, this season won’t be the same,” wrote Stoughton High senior captain Adam Leonard in an e-mail.
“Every practice I lined up against him on offense and had to block him. No matter what day it was, Dave would challenge me, and unfortunately, only now I understand it made me a better player. His work ethic in the weight room and on the field was one of a true senior leader, and there is no replacing that.”
A defensive tackle, Wade had worked hard to earn more playing time as a senior. He also ran indoor track and was a former cheerleader, handling stunts.
Stoughton High football coach Greg Burke said that Wade was “one of our best kids, one of our hardest-working kids. He played line. He made himself a better player this year, great in the weight room. He was very popular, a tremendous loss for us and the town and certainly the family.
“Our kids are hanging in there, but the worst thing that can happen in high school is a young kid going. He had a super personality. . . . I am going to miss him so much.”
He was the only male on the cheerleader squad during his final season, 2010, but had no reservations about it, putting his all into creating stunts the same way he put his all into every play on the gridiron.
“Most people just listen and take criticism without talking back, but not David,” said Evelyn Falkof, a former captain of the cheerleaders who graduated in 2011.
“He would question why he had to do something a certain way, and it was not because he thought it was unnecessary or because he thought he was right. It was simply because he wanted to learn. He wanted to improve and grow as a cheerleader, as well as a person.”
Harvey Blonder, the boys’ track and field coach at Stoughton High, recalled Wade as an athlete who strived to improve.
“I had him for three track seasons,” wrote Blonder in an e-mail. “He got better each season. He was in the weight room every day, and I don’t think you could find anyone who disliked David. I also had his brother [Michael] and he, too, was a super kid.”
When Wade wasn’t focused on progressing as an athlete, he enjoyed motorcycles and music.
“I will always remember the days when he would give me a ride home and he would blast Metallica as loud as he could,” said Billy Wirth, a senior teammate on the football team.
He was described by his peers and teammates as sweet and happy, always smiling.
“My memories of Dave will always be that big smile of his, and how he always put as much effort as possible in both practice and in games,” said senior quarterback Dan Eckler.
“No matter if we were practicing in 100-degree weather, or in the pouring rain, Dave gave it his all. Everyone in the Stoughton community should remember Dave by never settling for what they’ve done thus far, and always striving to be a better person.”
His teammates have fond memories of practice sessions and bus rides to games with Wade; on Friday night, they will try to ease their pain with a win against a 3-1 Foxborough club. They will do so donning No. 56 stickers on their helmets, honoring their fallen teammate. On Monday, a number of students wore black to school and wrote No. 56 on their hands.
“My goal this Friday is to play my heart out like Dave would and try to help my fellow Knights secure a win,” said senior Andrew Valle, a teammate of Wade’s in football and track.
In Wade’s memory, the Stoughton Booster Club will operate a concession stand at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10 for the Patriots-Texans matchup. The proceeds will go toward a scholarship to a Stoughton High cheerleader in Wade’s name.
“This is one of many difficult tragedies in life,” wrote Dalia Louro-Lopes, the treasurer of the Booster Club, in an e-mail. “We are united as a family to support one another during difficult times.”
“The only thing the team can do now,’’ said Leonard, the senior captain, “is stick together and display our support for Dave’s family. We dedicate this season to Dave and his family.”
The Black Knights’ coined phrase — “us . . . we . . . together . . . forever” — will mean more this season than any other.
Thus far, Stoughton has defended like no other team in the Hockomock, yielding just 6.5 points per game through the first four weeks.
Going forward will not be easy.
Burke said that his team will be “moving on as best we can, unfortunately. The attitude of the kids is good, I think. The seniors are going to miss him dearly. This is his family, aside from his immediate family. Dave is in our thoughts all the time.”