East Haven SportsBeat: When a Young Athlete Dies

The sudden death of young student-athletes brings schools and communities together to help grieve and overcome a tragic loss.

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Few things can rattle the core of a community like the untimely death of a young person.

On Monday night, Bradley Helt, a 17-year old Westport resident who attended , died unexpectedly. The death of a young man who was so full of life and such a talented swimmer has left many asking the question, "Why?"

"It's a tragedy and there are no answers," said Principal John Dodig. "I've been doing this for 43 years and there are never any answers to something like this."

Helt was raised in Westport and went to before making the decision to go to Fairfield Prep. Dodig said that about one-third of the students at Staples High School went to the same middle school as Helt and knew him well. When word came down on Tuesday that Helt had passed away, Dodig stated that several students were visibly shaken and were taken to the guidance office where Staples has a significant support staff of psychologists and counselors.

"Tragedy can happen anywhere," Dodig said. "But if anyone wants or needs to talk, they are taken care of here. Nobody says, 'We're busy. Come back on Friday.' "

Dodig said that six members of the swim team, many of whom grew up with Helt and swam competitively with and against him, gathered  around a table at the pool where they were informed of the passing of their friend.

"The coach was their along with a counselor to make sure they were all OK," Dodig said. "I have never seen six young men as close as they were during that tough time."

Nathan Boley was one of those six swimmers who was a friend of Helt. He wrote a letter about Helt which Dodig read over the PA system at school on Wednesday morning.

"Even though Bradley may no longer be with us, he lives on in our hearts, where he settled when we first met him. I was fortunate enough to have spent countless sleepovers, practices, and the occasional family vacation with Bradley, and have found that his time with us is best explained by a quote from one of his favorite movies: 'Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.' You are a legend Bradley, and you will be remembered forever. May you rest in peace."

Emotions were raw at where Helt had just helped the Jesuits to the Class LL State Championship in swimming. He was remembered as a person with a big heart and great personality.

"It's definitely a tough time," said Prep Athletic Director Steve Donahue. "The entire swim team was very close to Bradley and they are all looking out for each other to make sure they are OK. This is not about athletics but the human side of things."

However, there were games scheduled on Tuesday, forcing Donahue to make a decision on whether or not they should be even played. Donahue thought long and hard about cancelling them, but after consulting with every coach, he felt it was best to move forward.

"It was really a tough decision. We had to make sure everyone was ready to play," said Donahue. "The coaches talked with all the players about the situation and made sure their emotions were fine."

Members of the lacrosse team taped the initials of Helt on their helmets and the entire student body gathered on Wednesday morning for a memorial service at the school's chapel.

Recovering from the sudden death of a member of the student body can take time even if its someone who has long since graduated. Last Fall, who had been a baseball and hockey star at , graduating in 2010, died suddenly while working out with the baseball team at the University of Rhode Island in October.

"It's still really hard," said Gary Lindgren, Amity hockey coach and student assistance counselor. "Joey's death affected everybody. Students, coaches, teachers. "He had an impact on so many people's lives. Everybody was asking why something like this had to happen. He was such a young, strong kid. We're still dealing with it."

After Ciancola's sudden death, Amity High School looked after the students who had known the 2010 Male Athlete of the Year, "The administration was really great in how they handled it. We offered support to all those who needed it. You have to be able to talk about it and express your emotions. It's OK to cry and let your emotions out. It's tough to lose someone your close and it can effect the entire community for awhile. But to give them the support they need will make it easier to move on from a tragedy like this."


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