WEST, Texas — Seven months ago, a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas killed 15 people — mostly first responders.
For those who lost loved ones, the grieving continues. But almost everyone in West, a town of about 2,500 people, was affected in some way.
Like Tyler Pustejovsky, the captain of the West Trojans football team, who had always dreamed of a memorable senior year.
”I’ve got that optimistic attitude, you know,” Pustejovsky said.
What he could never have known was how much more memorable the year would really be. He had a standout season on the field and was named Homecoming King with his picture on the front page of the West News.
“He worked hard for it all year long," said his dad, Billy Pustejovsky. "He's an awesome kid, he deserves it. He's been through a whole lot this whole past year, and I'm proud of him.
The explosion at West Fertilizer Company damaged or destroyed 150 homes and buildings. Perhaps most important to Tyler was West High School, which he and the Class of 2014 will never enter again.
As the school year began, all high school students were displaced to a complex of portable classrooms.
"It's not normal. It's not going to be normal for a while," said assistant football coach Steve Burrow. "We're in school; we're in class; but it's not normal."
Something normal is what everyone needed. So, they turned to high school football. And as the leader of his team, Tyler Pustejovsky felt an obligation to give the people of West a distraction from their worries on that very turf that had served as a field hospital in the hours following the April 17 blast.
“Maybe they'll pay a little more attention to us," Tyler said. "Stop stressing about the fact that they've lost so many homes and lives. So, I feel like we've got a duty to do that."
That's a lot of responsibility for a high school senior. In the end, the West Trojans and Tyler Pustejovsky distinguished themselves this season, but not by winning. They finished with a record of 1-9.
"We have won a lot of battles that aren't on the scoreboard," Burrow said. "We won a lot of battles that people — even people that go to the game — don't even see."
In a place where some people lost everything, but nearly everyone lost something, the West Trojans distinguished themselves by just playing football. And by embracing a senior year more memorable than anyone could have ever dreamed.