The Federal Way High School Eagles begin their football season Friday, still mourning the devastating loss of a teammate in July.
Allen Harris, 16, died July 24 during a summer conditioning workout with the FWHS football team. The cause of death was determined as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the muscles of his heart enlarged, making it hard to pump blood to the body. Allen’s condition was undiagnosed.
Allen, an offensive lineman and defensive end for the Eagles, spent two years on the Federal Way football team, led by head coach John Meagher, who emphasized Allen’s hard work ethic and genuine kindness.
“As a coach, you get to know players in a different light,” Meagher said. “Allen was very quiet, didn’t say a whole lot, but was one that would after practice every day, come up and give me a fist-bump. He was just a real sweet kid.”
Allen’s contagious, distinct laugh and ever-present smile are some of his most memorable features, along with being a consistent and dedicated teammate, Meagher said, confirming that Allen’s teammates describe him the same way.
“He started really emerging this spring,” Meagher said. “His experience on the Pacific Islander Club also really brought him out of his shell.”
Many of the football players are in the Pacific Islander Club, which brings another dynamic of connection and brotherhood to the group.
At a football camp earlier this summer, Meagher recalls when the team was having a dance circle. Allen took to the center, showing off his moves.
“At camp, they were playing music at one point and they’re all in a circle dancing, and [Allen] came out and danced,” Meagher said. “It wasn’t really his thing, he was a kind of a shy kid, so that was a real big deal.”
Healing varies between each individual on the team.
“It’s harder for some boys than it is for others,” Meagher said. “Everybody had a different relationship with Allen, so it varies. It’s on all of our minds, for sure, all the time.”
After Allen died, Federal Way Public Schools “suspended activities for a 72-hour period to engage into an internal and external review of policies and procedures,” according to an email sent by Whitney Chiang, director of communications for the district.
“There were three coaches supervising the workout and all are current on required medical response certifications required by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) which includes First Aid/CPR/AED certifications,” the email continued. “Based on the information we have at this stage of the review, it is our understanding all policies and procedures were followed by the staff and the district.”
Each year, the Eagles select a team motto. This year, the motto is “NLMB: Never leave my brother,” which encapsulates the importance of supporting one another, having each others’ back and making sure ‘I’m trusting the guy next to me and he’s trusting me,” Meagher said.
As the team moves forward into the 2018 season, they plan to manifest Allen’s spirit into their game play and continue to work through adversity together.
“We’ve dedicated the season to him,” Meagher said. “It’s really more about playing like Allen lived his life and being like Allen, honoring him in that way.”
To honor Allen, the Eagles will carry out his jersey during the first appearance, and will unite with the Raiders team to form a human outline of number 88, Allen’s jersey number, on the field. A moment of silence will be held prior to kickoff. Coaches will wear dedicated T-shirts to honor Allen, with players donning the shirts under their football pads.
The Federal Way Eagles take on the Thomas Jefferson Raiders at 7 p.m. Aug. 31 at Memorial Stadium, 1300 S. 308th St.