Angel in the End Zone
This article was pieced together from articles written by Mick McCabe and Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press.
On Friday night, Nov. 22, 16-year-old Derrick De Young and his friend Jonathan Stuit eagerly looked forward to the following day, when their football team, South Christian High in Grand Rapids, Mich., would play Caro High in a Division 4 semifinal game. Derrick was a junior reserve defensive back who started on three special-teams units.
Derrick was the son of Rev. Maury De Young, a Fuller alum (D.Min. student, 1979-1983) and a minister at the Kelloggsville Christian Reformed Church. He was the kind of kid who wore his faith proudly and casually, like a favorite sweatshirt. He mixed religion and football into the same conversation, he offered prayers before hunting and prayers before eating and, like his father, he seemed drawn most to people without religion who might need it. But he was also a typical teen who loved sports and ate candy and fell asleep on the couch so often he earned the nickname "Sleepin' Homes." And he wore a playful T-shirt that read, "Life is short. Pray hard."
That night the boys decided to go watch their high school girls basketball team play in the district championship game. On the way to the game, Derrick suffered severe head injuries when Jonathan's car slammed into a tree about 7 p.m., and he was airlifted to Spectrum Health Butterworth Campus.
He died at 9:55 Saturday morning, just hours before his team's football game was to begin. The coach, school officials, and many of Derrick's teammates gathered at the hospital, while school officials discussed whether the game should go on as scheduled. Derrick's parents -- Maury and his wife, Cheryl -- asked that the game not be postponed or canceled.
"We really wanted them to play the game," Maury said, "and I'm sure Derrick would have wanted them to play. My wife and I felt the kids needed a chance to play. Derrick was really looking forward to this game. He was eager to be a part of it."
With the family's blessing, South Christian High played in the semifinals about three hours later and beat Caro, 42-21, and earned their fourth trip to the state finals. The team had not scored that many points all season. Ironically -- or perhaps not -- Derrick's jersey number was 42.
"There was a movie, Angels in the Outfield, the Rev. Maury De Young said on Sunday, the next day. "I think we had an angel in the end zone yesterday. There was a lot of crying -- a lot of laughter, too. Boy, there was a lot of good football. It was a great football day, but as far as a football family, it was a terrible day."
As for the score that reflected Derrick's number, Maury said, "That's fascinating. God must have a sense of humor."
But God's sense of humor didn't end there. And you either believe in such things or you don't.
South Christian's victory meant the team would play Riverview High for the state championship the following Friday, three days after burying Derrick. The team went on to win the game and claimed its first football championship. But the biggest cheer of the game was for an extra point. A simple extra point, with 4:48 left in the game, which raised South Christian's point total to -- yes, 42, for the second week in a row. They won the game 42-13. After the kick, the crowd roared.
"After we scored, one of my assistants said: 'Don't score again,'" said Coach Bob Blacquiere. "I've been around a lot and I don't believe in coincidences. There's a lot of things I'm not clear about. There's theology I'm not clear about."
The Division 4 championship trophy was accepted by Tim De Young, Derrick's older brother, who graduated last year and stood on the sidelines wearing Derrick's jersey.
"I'm sure he was watching from up above," said Maury. "He was so amazingly well-rounded. He was the neatest son you could ever have. We thank God for giving him to us. We would have loved to have had him longer. It's hard to let go and give him back. But [after the games] the news caught on to this and Derrick's story has gone all over the nation and almost every story and article includes a testimony/witness."