Picking this year’s Leo Suarez/Walter Krietsch Courage Award winner at the Miami Herald’s All-Broward Athletic Awards breakfast on Friday morning didn’t take a lot of investigative work.
The award went to the 17 victims who died in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — including assistant football coach Aaron Feis, school athletic director and wrestling coach Chris Hixon, and cross-country coach Scott Beigel, who gave their lives protecting students as a 19-year-old gunman roamed the hallways.
“I say this all the time — as time goes on this has turned into an event,” Hixon’s wife Debbie said Friday morning before she accepted the Wrestling Coach of the Year award on behalf of her late husband with their youngest son Corey, 22, by her side. “If you ask people to name the 17 names of those who died I’m sure they couldn’t name them all. And that’s my biggest fear — that it’s just another event and it can’t be that.
“Even if all 17 who died weren’t athletes it’s very nice [The Miami Herald honored their memory]. They were all important.”
In all 14 students lost their lives. Many were athletes or involved in sports in some capacity. Senior swimmer Nicholas Dworet was headed to the University of Indianapolis on scholarship. Aspiring soccer standout Alyssa Alhadeff was an up-and-coming star. Gina Montalto and Alex Schacter were members of the school’s marching band, which performed at football games. Senior Joaquin Oliver was lifelong fan Heat star Dwyane Wade.
Peter Wang, Carmen Schentrup, Helena Ramsay, Cara Loughran, Luke Hoyer, Jaime Guttenberg, Martin Duque Anguiano, Meadow Pollack and Alaina Petty were all excellent students.
Hixon, 49, spent most of his adult life coaching athletes, and his peers recognized him by unanimously voting him as the Wrestling Coach of the Year for Broward even though his program finished fifth at the BCAA tournament this season.
“He would be so honored to be the Wrestling Coach of the Year,” Hixon’s wife said. “He loves wrestling. He wrestled in high school. He was always happy to be the wrestling coach even when he wasn’t the coach. He would always be out there on the mat with the kids and all of that. It’s just something he would be very honored to receive.
“Athletics was everything to him. He didn’t get home until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. That was every night. He didn’t have to be there, but he was there. He wanted to be a participant. He wanted to know what they were doing. He wanted to make sure things were right. He was passionate about what he did. He did things that weren’t even his job. He’d clean the bleachers. He set things up for other coaches. It was his life.”
With a movement that has gained support worldwide and taken them everywhere from Parkland to the nation’s capital, the school leaders and classmates of Hixon and others who were shot and killed have made it their purpose to ensure those victims are never forgotten and that real and significant change is achieved.
Debbie Hixon said that’s what matters most moving forward as Douglas tries to heal from one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
"Every day is a different day,” she said. “We muddle through them as best as we can. Some days are easier than others. But it’s always a struggle.”
The football team this fall will have the number 17 on one side of its helmets and an Eagles team logo on the other to honor the memory of those lost.
Feis, who played football at Douglas and coached there since 2002, will be honored every game this season when the team’s top offensive linemen in practice wears his old jersey number (73) on game days.