GYPSUM — Many of Garrett LaForce’s Eagle Valley High School volleyball girls were taller than he was.
But that’s not where it counts.
Hundreds gathered Monday to remember LaForce, their teacher, coach and friend. There was nowhere he wouldn’t go, they said, nothing he wouldn’t do for his students, players and friends.
LaForce took over what many of his volleyball players called a “broken” team. They said he turned it around by believing in them, and making them believe in themselves.
From dead last the year before, they finished second in the league and only one win from the state tournament.
He was a “kid magnet” who often arrived at school at 4 a.m. and stayed until 9 p.m., or 2 a.m., because that’s what he needed to do, to do what needed to get done.
There’s the story about him giving every player a piece of wood. When they put it together, they’d made a volleyball, a lesson that the sum is greater than its parts.
“LaForce squeezed more into his 26 years than most people do in twice that,” said Greg Doan, Eagle Valley principal.
His short life touched and improved hundreds of others, and will continue to do so.
“This year is going to be a big year, and Garrett is going to be there every step of the way,” said Tami Payne, Eagle Valley athletic director.
That’s where it counts.
The car crash on a steep mountainside road near Telluride killed LaForce and two others, Ed Bollman, 23, and Carly Sansone, 21. His friend and colleague Weston Gleiss lived, the only survivor of the four.
“Don’t hesitate to laugh about him, don’t hesitate to cry about him, and just be glad you got to know him,” Gleiss said.
A video featuring volleyball season highlights was set to music, opening with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
They laughed, they cried, then they laughed through their tears. It hit the crowd right in their hearts.
That’s where it counts.
The LaForce force
Garrett Tyler LaForce hit the ground running on May 25, 1988.
He hit Eagle Valley High School like, well … like a force.
Most folks in Monday’s crowd wore black T-shirts emblazoned with red Devils horns and a white halo with “Garrett” written in it. On the back their wish for everyone, “May LaForce be with you.”
Eagle Valley was recruiting both a volleyball coach and a technology teacher, which meant LaForce had two rounds of interviews with different panels in one day. He had a couple hours to kill between interviews, so he pulled his bike off his car and rode down Glenwood Canyon and back.
“One of the greatest lessons I was taught was to hire people who I thought would be kid magnets,” Doan said. “Being a kid magnet means you have a spirit, personality and a heart to be a teacher. When Garrett interviewed, we hit the jackpot. I wanted to tell him, ‘You got the job. It’s you!’”
He waited, like he was supposed to, but not long.
“Teaching and coaching was not work for Garrett, in any sense of the word,” Doan said.
LaForce’s family held a funeral in Denver just after the July 5 tragedy. So many of his volleyball and soccer players attended it that they packed three rows and more.
“He cared more about others than anything else. I’m so proud to be part of this volleyball team,” said Lindsey Myers, an assistant EVHS volleyball coach.
A half dozen people spoke Monday, then dozens hung around to trade memories and just be with each other.
Doan and Payne scripted their remarks, which they almost never do, but it was Doan’s unscripted closer that went to the heart of it all.
“I love Garrett, and I love all of you,” he said.
That’s where Garrett LaForce will live, and that’s where it counts.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.