Merrill community mourns the loss of 16-year-old MHS student

Bluejays Homecoming football game becomes a chance to honor Owen Cordova


The Merrill Bluejay Football Team paid tribute to the memory of classmate, Owen Cordova, by putting red wings with Owen’s name on them on the back of their helmets for Merrill’s Homecoming game last Saturday. Jason Wadzinski photo.

Saturday, Oct. 2, was Homecoming weekend for Merrill High School (MHS), following an eventful Homecoming Week. But tragedy also marked Homecoming Week 2021 when Owen T. Cordova, a 16-year-old Junior at MHS, died the morning of Sept. 30, 2021. “Owen was traveling way too fast on his way to school when he lost control on a corner resulting in a terrible collision with multiple trees,” his obituary reads.

The Lincoln County Dispatch Center received a radio call from the Lincoln County Highway Department advising of the one-vehicle crash that occurred on State Rd. 107 near Tug Lake Ave. in the Township of Rock Falls at approx. 7:25 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, Merrill Fire Department and EMS, and the Lincoln County Coroner all responded to the scene, but it was too late to save Owen.

The crash remained under investigation as of Sept. 30, according to a press release from the Sheriff’s Department that also said speed was believed to be a factor.

Honoring Owen
While Homecoming events continued, including the Friday night bonfire, the traditional Homecoming Parade on Saturday, the football game Saturday afternoon, and the dance Saturday evening, it cast a sadness over otherwise happy festivities for the community. Many students decided this event also provided an opportunity to both mourn the loss of their classmate and to honor him. They spread the word to wear red for Homecoming to honor Owen, and word spread quickly. Many students walking in the parade or riding on floats in the parade wore red, as did many of the people lining the streets to watch this year’s Homecoming Parade go by as it traveled the route from Normal Park to MHS. Many of the fans at the Homecoming football game also wore red to honor Owen.

Kids started to gather at this year’s Homecoming bonfire on Friday night. Joseph Frederick photo.

The Homecoming Bonfire was ablaze Friday evening, Oct. 1, in Merrill. Joseph Frederick photo.

A large number of Bluejay fans turned out for Saturday’s Homecoming football game dressed in red to honor Owen Cordova, a Merrill High School Junior who died tragically in a car accident two days prior. Joseph Frederick photo.

Even the Merrill Cheer Team added red shirts to their normal blue and white attire to honor and remember Owen while cheering on the Bluejays at the Homecoming game. Joseph Frederick photo.The Merrill Bluejay Football Team also decided to honor Owen. A team member, Arin Dettmering, approached Head Coach Jason Wadzinski, along with Jill Schmidt, the parent of a MAPS student and shared an idea … that Schmidt would make and donate red wings [small decals] in memory of Owen that the football players could put on their helmets. Coach Wadzinski worked with her to be sure the decals were the proper size and Schmidt delivered them Saturday morning in time for all the players to put them on the back of their helmets. “Having Owen with us meant everything to our boys on Saturday,” Wadzinski said.

“I personally didn’t know Owen, as I never had him as a student, nor did he play either of the sports that I coached,” he added. “It wasn’t hard to tell what type of person he was though. He must’ve had an infectious personality for this to mean so much to our players.”

Brian Ball’s long run for the Bluejays first touchdown of the game. Katie Hanson photo.

More than just a Homecoming game
“Saturday, Oct. 2, the Merrill Bluejays took on the Lakeland Thunderbirds for a Homecoming clash!” Wadzinski said. “It was a defensive battle for the ages. Brian Ball blew it open for Merrill with an 80-yard scamper to the endzone early on. The Thunderbirds battled back and tied it up late in the game 12-12.”

“Junior Arin Dettmering had a crucial interception late and also came up with a quarterback pressure in the opponent’s end zone resulting in a safety late in the fourth. That 2-point play gave the Bluejays the 14-12 advantage which they held onto for the remainder,” he said.

The Merrill Bluejays scored a Homecoming win for Owen.

“Our boys were playing with a heavy heart after the loss of a classmate this week,” Wadzinski added. “We as a staff are so incredibly proud of their effort.”

“This was more than just a game to the community,” he said. “Sure, it was Homecoming, but it was also a chance for a community to rally behind a family who suffered a tragedy. My hope is that Saturday provided some respite from those in pain, if only for a few hours. I know it meant everything to our boys.”

During halftime at the game, a prayer was said and friends and family members released red balloons into the air.

The boys are currently sitting in fourth place in the Great Northern Conference with a 2-3 conference record.

Erik Mann and Cayden Diels on the tackle. Katie Hanson photo.

Community love and support
Within the Merrill community, some individuals and businesses are embracing the idea the students started during Homecoming with the color red to also honor Owen and show love and support for Owen’s family. Red hearts are popping up in businesses and in windows.

“As a local organization, Park City Credit Union (PCCU) felt compelled to scatter paper hearts all around our buildings in Merrill and Tomahawk as a way to show support to the family, our members, and our community that are feeling the impact of Owen’s passing,” said PCCU CEO Val Mindak, one of the businesses that is doing so.

Many people throughout the community will wear red to show their love and support on Wednesday, Oct. 6, the day of Owen’s memorial visitation, which will be held from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Merrill High School Auditorium, 1201 N. Sales St. Merrill. Taylor-Stine Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Merrill, is assisting the family. Owen’s complete obituary may be found on this website, as well.

Following a prayer at half-time, some friends and family released red balloons in memory of Owen Cordova. Joseph Frederick photo.

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