The Lindenwood Lions shockingly and tragically lost a member of their pride last week. In the early morning hours of May 17, freshman back and former High School All American Michael Black fell from the fourth floor of his residence hall to his death.
The initial reports from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the police were investigating the incident as a suicide. Results of the investigation are still unknown.
“No one believed it,” said Lindenwood back Kolton Nelson. “I was on the other side of campus, and my roommates are on the rugby team, and we sprinted down there. It never seemed to actually happen. It never felt real. It was kind of a lot to take in.”
Immediately, a graphic with “Team Black” and a rugby ball started circulating Facebook, and Black’s teammates posted heartfelt reactions to the unfathomable loss of their young friend. Tyler Black, Michael’s brother and Lindenwood’s star openside flanker, posted a photo of himself and his little brother as children on his Facebook page, with the caption, “I’ll always love you bud.”
A memorial service was held on Lindenwood’s small campus, and it was so well attended that the rugby team gave up its seats midway through the service to accommodate the large crowd.
“It was quite a spectacle. Our school is so small that it’s brought a lot of people together,” said Nelson. “Everyone’s smiling at each other now. You took things for granted before, and now that certain experiences have happened, you learn that you don’t get to keep everyone forever.
“The team has really come together. We’ve built ourselves into more of a family now. Everyone’s always looking out for each other. Instead of eating lunch at separate times, we’re all eating together, just doing what we can to keep everything good. If anyone has problems, they’ve just been more apt to come up and talk about it rather than keeping things quiet. It’s actually been healthy. As bad as that sounds, it’s really helped us out, bettering ourselves, and we’re all doing it for [Michael].”
Just 11 days after the death of Black, the Lions will take the field against Northern Illinois in the first round of the National Playoffs in Madison, Wisc, with the initials “MB” on their left sleeves.
“It’s sad. It’s tragic, but we have to forge ahead,” said Lindenwood coach Ron Laszewski. “I think the guys will be internally motivated, each guy differently, from it. But as a team we’re a family and it’s a loss and we’re all hurting, but we’ve got to forge ahead. Michael would have wanted that.”
Tyler Black, just 11 days after the death of his younger brother, has chosen to honor his brother by playing against NIU.
“He’s tearing at the bits to play, so he’ll be out there playing inspired rugby,” Laszewski said of Black.
“He plays with a lot of fury, he goes hard, and this has fueled it,” added Nelson. “He’s more aggressive. He’s smarter. He’s playing outstanding. He’s doing amazing, and it’s quite something to see, actually. You can see a big difference in him. You can tell he has something to play for now.”