North Andover Scarlet Knights Boys Track and Field '08

After tragedy, North Andover High track team soldiers on

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Alex Farese » Courtesy PhotoMore photos

Monday, April, 28 By Alan Siegel
Staff writer

Unlike his friend, Drew Pickul will be able to compete again.

"I'm not quite sure how I'm going to deal with it," he said. "I have to figure it out when it comes."

The memory of Alex Farese, Pickul's co-captain and buddy, is fresh in the minds of many local athletes. The 17-year-old died last Monday, a week after collapsing on the North Andover High track. Pickul, like the rest of the Scarlet Knights, is still in shock.

"Everything happened so fast," Pickul said.

There have been fitting tributes, the funeral has come and gone, and school vacation is over. It's time to soldier on. That doesn't make it any easier. But sticking together, Pickul said, helps.

"We can't go through it alone," he said. "We do it with each other."

There's no trick, no shortcut in the grieving process. But there's hope.

"The kids are proving to be a real resilient bunch," said coach Steve Nugent, who's also a guidance counselor at North Andover High. "…I'm proud of our kids. They not only lost a classmate, they witnessed the whole thing."

Teachers, coaches and administrators have been on hand to help. By all accounts, they've been doing a fine job.

"The kids are front and center," Nugent said. "We're focusing on supporting them, getting them through it.

"You just do the best you can."

Watching hundreds of students | some from neighboring communities and even rival schools | join in for a memorial walk around the track was special.

"It was pretty emotional," Nugent said, "almost therapeutic."

Again, it's been about the teenagers. Many of them have never gone through anything like this.

"The coaches are taking cues from the kids," said Rick DelleChiaie, who's on leave from his head coaching post but is still involved in the track program. "(The adults) are doing what they think they can do (to help)."

And what, exactly, can they do? There's no blueprint for dealing with tragedy.

"It was a shock, the whole thing," DelleChiaie said. "I don't think anybody could prepare themselves for that.

"People are numb. The student body was really subdued (the week before vacation). For the seniors, it was difficult in the classroom."

Farese, by all accounts, was a great kid, and a brilliant one at that. He'd been accepted at Johns Hopkins, a university that, according to a press release by the admissions department, received 15,950 applications | the largest number in school history. Only about 1,200 were accepted.

"He was one of the brightest kids in our grade," Pickul said. "Maybe he didn't play the most popular sport, but (students) had great respect for him."

His memory will live on.

"The boys will dedicate their season to him," DelleChiaie said. "I anticipate them bouncing back, finishing strong."

Alex would definitely be proud.

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