Bonding through the tragedy: Royals community mourning loss

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Jim O’Hara couldn’t wait to see what Riley Settergren was going to accomplish on the football field this season.

Settergren, a senior defensive back at Eastern Hancock, had just begun to put it together this offseason, the veteran football coach remarked. His development and leadership were equal only to his work ethic.

Settergren’s positive outlook in everything he pursued prevented lackadaisical effort, O’Hara said. Riley cared about his community. He loved being a Royal. More importantly, O’Hara said, he was a friend to everyone.

“He had an infectious smile. He was always happy, and he was quite a character. Probably one of the most loved guys on our team,” O’Hara said. “He was such a well-rounded young man.”

Remembering Riley and the radiant attitude he projected made Wednesday’s tragedy even more difficult to comprehend in the hours following his death in rural Charlottesville.

According to police reports, shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday, Settergren was pronounced dead at the scene of an accident involving a pickup and a crop sprayer near County Road 900N and County Road 750E.

A passenger in the pickup, Settergren, of Wilkinson, was 17.

“It’s such a tragedy. We are totally devastated,” O’Hara said. “His mom (Tammy) and dad (Jay) are the pillars of our football family. Tammy handles all the football information that needs to get out. This morning we had a fundraiser, stuffing envelopes, and the Settergren’s were all there, his mom, dad and brother, Chase.”

A few hours later, the entire community came together as one family at the school to mourn and support one another.

Eastern Hancock opened their facilities for students and families in the afternoon. Counselors, coaches and local ministers were made available to help in the grieving process.

“We’ve had a steady stream of people here, and we still have a number of people still here,” Eastern Hancock athletics director Aaron Spaulding said while still at the high school Wednesday evening. “The community is coming together to support the family, the other families and the kids the best way we can.”

A multi-sport athlete at Eastern Hancock, Settergren participated in football, wrestling and was on the track team last year. As a freshman, he played basketball for the Royals before focusing on wrestling. He competed in 20 matches as a junior at 160 pounds.

This past spring, he ran the 400-meter, was a long jumper and was part of the team’s three relay teams along with his brother, Chase, who is entering his sophomore year.

“He was one of those kids that was always in a good mood. He always had a smile on his face,” Spaulding said. “He was the kind of kid that always got the most out of his talents. He was a solid contributor in everything, who maximized his ability as much as anyone can.”

Football was no exception. Committing himself to improvement, Settergren worked himself in to the best shape of his career, O’Hara said.

“He figured it out and was dedicated to the program and to his teammates. He was becoming a very good leader for us,” the coach said. “He was definitely one of our better players without a doubt. He worked to be better. He started playing hard and with more confidence.”

As a junior he finished with 18 tackles, 12 solos, an interception and a tackle for a loss. In 2017, he was motivated to do more — on and off the field.

“His last day, he was helping our team out,” O’Hara said.

Tonight, the football team is following Riley’s example by banding together during an overnight team bonding event at the high school.

Initially, the pre-planned team gathering was going to be postponed, but the players, O’Hara said, asked to keep it on the schedule. The team’s first practice is Monday.

“The kids decided they wanted to stay together, and quite honestly, I think Riley would want that, too,” O’Hara said. “We need to be together, tell stories and lean on each other’s shoulders.

“Everybody reacts to these things differently, but we are a close-knit team. I think it will pull us together even more. I believe that.”

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.