Once I heard the news, I felt compelled to write.
I drove to the office late last Wednesday to do a job I didn’t want to do. I found myself refreshing the Missouri State Highway Patrol accident report page waiting to see an update I really didn’t want to see.
This job can be painful at times.
I had heard the news of West Platte coach Nate Danneman’s death from reliable sources, and you don’t want to believe — even as the reality sets in. For some reason, a sense of duty came to me knowing how the story would eventually spread.
Don’t ask me to explain why, but I wanted the first story to identify him to also tell his story from a source that actually knew him. Because it’s a story worth telling.
I had trouble falling asleep even after writing the majority of a story. I found myself replaying the final conversations I had with Danneman, who spent the past four years coaching wrestling and football at West Platte.
During an early season track meet at West Platte, Danneman jovially volunteered as a timer, but when asked, he again espoused his happiness with no longer coaching the sport. He spent plenty of time in previous stops at Marshall, Richmond and Drexel high schools coaching the entirety of the school year.
In fact, Danneman had looked forward to scaling back his wrestling duties again after serving as head coach this past winter out of necessity. He wanted to spend more time with his wife and two young daughters, still deeply committed to shaping the lives of young student-athletes at West Platte but finding balance in his life with experience.
My last conversation with Danneman came exactly two weeks before his death.
Going into the Buffalo Wild Wings at Zona Rosa, I first took my son to the bathroom before asking the hostess for a table. We came out and the workers went to clear a booth for us. A man walked in behind us and said, “Maybe we won’t eat here with him here,” gesturing toward me.
It was Danneman, flashing his ornery smile at me.
We exchanged greetings, and the hostess asked Danneman his seating preference. He planned to sit at the bar. My 3-year-old son looked up at me, and said, “Daddy, I want to sit at the bar, too.”
Danneman got a good laugh out of this, bidding me farewell and telling Cale, “Maybe some day.”
I never talked to Danneman again. Two weeks after that happenstance encounter and with summer break looming, he died in an almost inconceivable accident on Interstate 29 — a semi coming out of the northbound lanes and fatally striking Danneman’s car in the southbound lanes.
The details still stagger me.
West Platte students went to school the day after and spent time together grieving the loss of a father, a son, a husband, a teacher, a coach. I can’t decide what the proper order for those titles should be because they all seemed important to Danneman.
That first day without Danneman in the classroom was surely tough, and a lot of firsts await the West Platte family — the first game or meet for his athletes, the first day of football practice without him this summer, the first football game without him on the sideline, and so on.
Hard to believe Danneman spent just four years at West Platte. There seem to be so many more memories, memories shared during a candlelight vigil Thursday night at old Rudolph Eskridge Stadium on the field he patrolled with a persona much bigger than his 5-foot-7 frame and again on a sunny Monday afternoon at new Rudolph Eskridge Stadium.
Hundreds showed up to mourn Danneman’s loss, many from right here in this area. He clearly spent his four years at West Platte very well and left a lasting impact on those around him.
I’d venture to guess he spent all 37 years of his all-too-brief life pretty well, and we were lucky to have him in our midst here in Platte County for the time that we did.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.