OXFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) — Inside Oxford’s Collier Lanes, a town is rallying for a team doing their best to put the pieces back together, even though one major piece is missing.
“I felt like he should be here," said Senior Jake Love. "I knew... I obviously knew he wasn't, and it was tough.”
Love is talking about his close friend and teammate Justin Shilling, who was killed at their high school just two weeks ago.
Last week the team came together at Justin’s funeral, and now they’re trying to come together again in their first match of the year.
“It was really nice to just get back out," Love said. "It felt good with all that stuff going on it was a good distraction, we got to just be ourselves and that was important for us.”
“There wasn’t a ton of emotion because I think the guys focused on the bowling and the task at hand and that's exactly what we wanted them, and asked them to do,” said Oxford Bowling Coach JR Lafnear.
Lafnear says the team has had little to no practice this year in light of the tragedy but knew his players needed to be together, and that they wanted to compete. It was also important for him.
“Me helping them is my therapy," Lafnear said. "I lost a great kid and the only way I get through this is by helping them get through it, and if we can do that then it’s a win-win for both of us.”
The Monday night match is the school’s first athletic event since the tragedy. People from all over town showed up and stayed nearly 3 hours to support.
“We’re just thrilled to see our student-athletes back in action again,” said Oxford Athletic Director Tony Demare. “I think what we’re seeing here today is really a community that epitomizes oxford strong”
That support was much needed, as Justin was known for his support and being the guy to pick up his teammates when they were down.
“He was always there for you if you needed him, he was the nicest kid I’ve ever met," Love said. "He lit up the room when he’d walk in, even if it was dark. He was awesome.”
Despite the tragedy, Oxford had a resounding victory, as the team continues to put the pieces back together, knowing now that their missing piece may not be missing after all.
“There's no doubt in my mind that Justin was with us tonight," Lafnear said. "I know they felt him. I felt him.”
"I think that’s gonna be a trend all season," Love said. "We know what we've got to do and we know it’s for Justin. We’ve got to win for him.”