Northern Illinois took another step toward normalcy when the Huskies host Western Michigan Feb. 26 in the first athletic event on campus since the shootings on Feb. 14.
Classes resumed Monday, but getting back to routine won’t be easy.
Not when there are white crosses on a knoll. Not when there’s crime scene tape outside the auditorium where the gunman opened fire, killing five students before taking his own life. Not when counselors are attending classes, offering to help students.
For a school determined to move on, a basketball game is just a small step. Or, maybe it is more than that.
“I think it’s huge,” coach Ricardo Patton said. “When you talk about trying to get over as best you can and move forward after such a devastating tragedy, I think it’s great to get back to some sense of normalcy as best you can.”
No NIU athletes were among those killed or wounded, although a men’s soccer player was in the class during the rampage.
The shootings stirred the elder Patton’s memories of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. He was the head coach at Colorado and one of his players, Josh Townsend, lost a sister. Patton took over 11 months ago at this rural school in DeKalb, Ill., about 65 miles from Chicago.
Senior Shaun Logan had film analysis class the day of the shootings in the lecture hall where they occurred.
“I was just in there that morning,” said Logan, a forward. “If this would have happened any earlier, I would have been in there. So it makes you feel kind of weird.”
Michael Patton’s friend was there during the shootings, but she escaped without injury. He has a theater class in that hall, but hasn’t been by since then. His class got moved, as did Logan’s.
“I don’t know if I’d want to go by it, to be honest with you,” said Michael Patton, a freshman. “For me, it’s just kind of easier to stay away from the area. It makes me think about it a lot more. Hopefully, I won’t have to go near that lecture hall.”
There has been an outpouring of support from colleges and pro teams since the shootings. Coaches and administrators got calls from their counterparts at Virginia Tech, where a massacre last spring left 33 dead and dozens injured.
This was already a difficult season for the Huskies (6-17, 3-8 Mid-American Conference), even though their most recent game was their best. Two days before the shootings, they beat Akron 88-78 and snapped the Zips’ 22-game home winning streak. They were scheduled to host Western Michigan Feb. 17, but NIU had closed down by then.
When the team returned to practice on Wednesday, the elder Patton noticed “a level of focus and excitement just getting back around one-another.”