Memories of 9/11 inspire unity among Corona athletes

“I will forever remember singing the national anthem and running out with the team with the American flag waving in the air; it was a very special moment to be part of.”

Former Corona del Sol quarterback Chase Cartwright, now attending Northern Arizona University, recalled the project he and his Aztec teammates launched, somewhat spontaneously but nonetheless determinedly, to honor the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.

Thinking about the day and those that followed brings sadness to the young athlete’s eyes.

“Nine-eleven was one of the most, if not the most tragic event to happen to the U.S.,” said Cartwright. An estimated 3,000 U.S. citizens lost their lives within just a few short moments. “That day will never be forgotten as long as this world exists,” Cartwright reflected. “With that said, 9/11 means unity to me, as well.”

Unity was widely spread throughout the country after the tragedy, inspiring a newfound uniformity of purpose among students on the Corona del Sol campus.

That unity was reborn last year when Cartwright and the other players bought special jerseys and laid out an ambitious fundraising plan to support today’s active-duty members of the military.

“(Unity) was the idea I had in my mind when I thought about the jerseys. I wanted Corona to come together as a school and community and be a part of something bigger than we were,” Cartwright said.

“I was in the Corona weight room with (Coach) Tim Kelly and (Assistant Principal) Jim Bell, and I knew we had a game on 9/11, and it just kind of popped in my head,” Cartwright said.

“The idea of donating the money that we raised with the hats, t-shirts and jerseys however, was Coach Kelly’s.”

Bell, Kelly and Cartwright collaborated to create not just a typical fundraiser but an entire event in honor of the game, raising approximately $12,500 to benefit severely injured service men and women. Focus of their efforts was the Wounded Warrior Project, which emphasizes assisting, honoring, aiding and empowering soldiers.

A large donation to help kick-start the event came from Michael Pollak, 2003 graduate and former football player from Corona, now playing for the Indianapolis Colts.

“There was a great deal of pride from the Corona football team as well as from others throughout Tempe in being able to provide such a large amount of money to a worthy cause,” Bell said.

Approximately 80 jerseys and 1,200 t-shirts were sold for the cause, and although it’s one year later, “You can still walk on campus today and see students wearing those camouflage t-shirts,” Kelly said.

“They (the shirts/jerseys) were a big hit, and everyone around campus loved the idea of us giving back to the community. The coaches always have us giving our time at a food bank or setting up for the breast cancer walk, but this idea starting from the players really says a lot about the character of the team we had last year,” Cartwright said.

“We embraced it and were thankful to have the opportunity to give back.”

Cartwright, three-year Corona varsity veteran, is currently playing with a full-ride scholarship to NAU, but remains a dedicated Aztec.

“Bleed Orange is what I lived by for four years,” Cartwright said. “Most graduates just leave and move on, but I was at the school often during this past summer before I left for college. Corona was a very special place for me while I was there.”

Cartwright goes on to explain that Corona will always have a place in his heart.

“I miss the sense of family I had at Corona. I grew very close to some of my teammates and continue to talk to them. I miss playing under the lights. Playing at Hascall Henshaw Stadium in front of our student body and the rest of our fans brought some of the best memories that I will ever have,” Cartwright said.

College football is a big change for the quarterback.

“The competition is much better, and everyone is as good at what they do as you are. They demand much more of your time and hold you accountable for everything that you do,” Cartwright said.

As a result of that and his academic goals, Cartwright says he lives a constantly busy schedule of 16- to 17-hour days 5 to 6 days a week.

Bell isn’t surprised by Cartwright’s hard-work ethic at NAU.

“Chase was and still is an amazing young man. He was a leader on campus, in the classroom and in the community. I always thought Chase led by example,” Bell said. “He was always the first one on the field and the last one off the field. I believe he will do us proud here at Corona as well as in the community.”

Cartwright had a huge impact on Corona by establishing the image of a great leader, teammate and student, and he continues to be admired.

For any who might wonder about the outcome of last year’s Sept. 11 game, the Aztecs lost the very competitive contest played against Desert Ridge.

But as Bell said:

“You balance it out: What’s more important. Obviously, winning the game is important, but did we win in the bigger picture? I think we did.”

Cartwright agrees.

“I wanted Corona to come together as a school and community, and be a part of something bigger than we were,” Cartwright said.

“We represented not only our school that night; we represented our country, and that was a very gratifying feeling.”