MOLINE — Football season is supposed to be about having fun. For the Moline Maroons, the fun has been interrupted all too often by tragedy over the past 14 months.
In August 2018, what started as a headache for Moline freshman football player Christopher Bunch turned into acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, a brain disease. He died on Aug. 14.
Two months later, the father of Moline linebacker Chandler Dilworth passed away unexpectedly.
Earlier this fall, the younger sister of Moline junior Jessie James Clark-Williams died following a battle with cancer late in the summer.
Now, a football-playing member of the Class of 2022, Dakovion "Kovi" Kennedy, is in critical condition in a Peoria hospital.
Family members said Kovi developed a fever after a game on Sept. 23, and he was taken to the emergency room at Genesis Medical Center, Illini Campus, Silvis, the next morning. He was told he had a virus and needed rest.
After several days, Kennedy was still sick, and his family took him to UnityPoint Health-Trinity Rock Island. From there, he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at OSF Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, where he is now in the adult ICU. Doctors still have not identified the virus.
"This is a parent's nightmare," said Mike Morrissey, Moline coach. "A week ago he was just fine, and now we can only be supportive of Kovi and the family."
That family is not just his immediate relatives. It also includes the Moline Maroons. And now it has expanded to become the Quad-Cities family.
Donations being raised through an online fundraiser — https://www.facebook.com/donate/384086168935658/ — are nearing $10,000.
Rock Island High School did a benefit during Tuesday's volleyball game that raised $800, $330 of which came from 67 Rocky football players who bought concessions; the proceeds went straight to the fund.
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Moline High School representatives will be taking donations during the football game Friday night, Oct. 4, against Galesburg at Browning Field in Moline. On Saturday, Oct. 5, Alleman High School officials will raise funds during the football game against United Township High School at Lindberg Stadium in Rock Island.
"This is just another time where our communities really step up to the plate," Morrissey said. "That stuff is amazing and means so much to the Moline football program."
The Maroons are mustering every bit of their heart and soul to keep rolling along. They understand there are practices to be conducted and games to be played, but they also have one of their brothers in mind.
"I believe being a leader is being there for everyone," said senior lineman Patrick Pray. "Everybody handles things in their own way, and we just need to support one another. Some people want to talk, and others keep it to themselves. We just have to persevere and get through it with Kovi."
Senior lineman Collin Meyer added: "I was talking to my parents when I found out about Kovi, and my mom said she thinks we are cursed or something. I feel sad for Kovi and for his family. It is tough for us, and we seniors don't even know Kovi that well. I can't imagine how this is hitting the sophomore players."
The last 14 months have taken a toll on the Moline players and added extra burdens to the usual issues teenagers face. At the same time, those burdens have led to the players growing up and learning that life is not always fair.
"This is a situation where we are not in control," Morrissey said. "What this does do is put football in perspective. It has to always be family first, and whether or not we win (tonight), Kovi always comes first."
As the head coach, Morrissey has to be the person who keeps the team on level ground as he has done through each of the previous tragedies.
In addition, Morrissey is dealing with the additional burdens of some season-ending injuries to Moline players and the shooting deaths of four of his former players at Thornridge High School in Dolton, Ill.
Meyer understands how tough this has to be for his coach.
"We all get to go home and do what we do, but Coach is worrying about his football team 24/7," said Meyer. "This has to weigh on him really hard."