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DILLY STRONG
When Butte County football player Dillon Waymire collapsed on the field earlier this season, a community, a school, and a team found its fight and resolve
Published: 11/16/2023 1:48:01 PM
 

Dillon Waymire GoFundMe

On Sept. 29 when the Butte County football team traveled to Middleton for a neutral field clash with two-time defending 1-A Division II state champs Kendrick, head coach Sam Thorngren told his players they were going to find out what kind of team they had.

But by the end of the night after senior nose tackle Dillon Waymire’s brush with death, Butte County was learning about what kind of kids they’d raised, what kind of community it had, and what kind of compassion existed among them.

“We went into that game hoping to get better as a team but left not caring anything about sports, just about our guy Dilly,” Thorngren said.

On Friday night, just seven weeks later, the Butte County Pirates will try to win the school’s first football state title—and win it for their beloved teammate in a show of support that’s galvanized a community, a school, and a football team.

A Harrowing First Day of School

On the first day of school on Aug. 21, Dillon was driving to class when a semi-truck milk tanker pulled out in front of him. His mid-size SUV went underneath the tanker in an accident that responding authorities said he was lucky to have survived. He was life-flighted to Idaho Falls where his hospital stay was brief, suffering only a laceration to his face and some small subdural bleeding.

“When Dillon got in that accident, it was hard for everyone that day because of how bad it looked,” Thorngren said. “Everyone heard the helicopter fly over the school to take him to the hospital. By the time we got to practice, we all knew he was kind of okay, but it was still tough on everyone.”

The initial prognosis was good, allowing Dillon to return to the field if he continued progressing through the medical protocol set up for him. And just over a month later, he was cleared to play, getting back on the field for a game at Council.

“When we played Council, we eased him into the game,” Thorngren said. “We’d put him in and then pull him out, talk to him to make sure he was feeling okay, and then play him a few more snaps. We were limiting his reps and felt pretty good after that game about his health and overall recovery.”

A Nightmare in Middleton

Dillon, who starred at nose tackle and defensive end, was excited about getting cleared to play again after his accident.

“Getting back to playing was nothing hard,” Dillon said. “That was pretty easy. I love playing and I played well in those games when I came back.”

But that time on the field ended abruptly in the fourth quarter of a game against Kendrick in Middleton.

“I don’t remember any of it,” Dillon said when asked about the incident.

According to Thorngren, Dillon came off the field complaining that he felt nauseous. Moments later, he collapsed awkwardly on the sideline and everyone knew something wasn’t right.

“When I saw him down on the sideline, I didn’t ever think it was an injury because I was watching him close,” said Julie Waymire, Dillon’s mother. “He had some good hits but nothing that made me think he had gotten hurt from playing. That’s when I knew it had to be related to his accident.”

As coaches and medical personnel attended to Dillon, players took a knee on the field, all anxious about what was happening with him.

“I was right next to him and knew what was going on,” Thorngren said. “But I looked over at the players and realized they had no idea what was happening. I told them to let everyone know that he was still breathing and had a pulse, but it was still very scary.”

Coaches and officials decided to call the game as concern for Dillon spread across the entire stadium.

“There were just a thousand things that night you could talk about,” Thorngren said. “Kids on both teams were crying. We were lucky we were so close to Boise too. Many of the players were going to ride home with their parents who’d made the trip, but the team wanted to ride back on the bus together. Everybody was really shaken over it and just wanted to be together.”

Dilly Strong

While the Butte County team had experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, the team was determined to keep fighting—and to do it for Dillon.

On the Sunday after the Kendrick game, the seniors met and came up with some ways they wanted to honor Dillon, starting with the phrase “Dilly Strong.” They also removed the Pirates logo on one side of their helmet and replaced it with a decal of the number 13, Dillon’s number. And they also came up with the idea of painting the number 13 on the 13-yard line of their field.

“Our Monday practice that next day was just all about what we were going to do to show our support for Dillon,” Thorngren said. “We played Challis that week and it was a real tear jerker. It was all about Dilly, which is what the players wanted.”

The rest of the community rallied around the Waymire family, too. Butte County athletics director Angie McAffee started a GoFundMe page for the Waymires to help with all the medical expenses associated with Dillon’s recovery, setting a goal of $25,000. So far, over $46,000 has been raised and counting.

“Our community has been amazing,” McAffee said. “There has not been a day that’s gone by that there isn’t something or someone raising funds or asking to raise funds for his recovery. The GoFundMe account went better than any of us were ever expecting. … When a kid is as nice as Dillon is, it’s easy to rally around him.”

Other communities that have heard about Dillon’s story have jumped to contribute as well, including Butte County’s rivals. Carey, Raft River, Grace and West Jefferson have all held fundraisers or contributed to Dillon’s medical fund. Raft River and Grace both painted the number 13 on their fields when they hosted Butte County.

“A young man from West Jefferson made hats that say ‘Dilly Strong’ and donated all the proceeds,” McAffee said. “Our Dilly shirts sold out in an hour, over two hundred of them. And all that money was donated from Hot Ink.”

Then there were Dillon’s friends from rodeo, hosting hay and gun raffles to raise money for him.

“I have been the most proud of how everyone, regardless of school affiliation, has come together to support kids,” said McAffee, who also teaches at the school alongside Julie Waymire. “That's really what our job is about. We do not get into education or athletics for the money. We get into it because we love kids and want to see them succeed.”

There’s little doubt that the people of Butte County already understood the importance of community. But it’s fueled support for Dillon and left an indelible mark on the Butte County football team.

“You could tell we were going to be good but we had to work to get there,” Thorngren said. “Even in the game against Kendrick, we fell behind 20-0 and fought back to get within 20-18. Dillon even saw something in their defense and suggested a play that worked.

“But since that time, there’s been an unreal focus among the players. We had our purpose and then all of a sudden it has evolved into the most coachable guys we’ve ever had.”

Win it for Dilly

While Dillon hasn’t been with the team since the incident, remaining in the hospital for a couple of weeks before staying in Boise at a relative’s house with his mom for rehab, his spirit has remained with the team. The players organized a visit to see Dillon and let him know they were all still thinking about him and dedicating the rest of the season to him.

On Senior Night, Dillon couldn’t attend the game, but he still sent over his favorite memories from playing football at Butte County.

“Most of the guys shared a funny memory about their time on the team,” Thorngren said. “But not Dillon. He wrote that his favorite memory was starting to play in fourth grade with all his buddies and how he couldn’t wait to win a state championship when they were seniors. It was so genuine, just sharing how much he appreciated that he got to play with his friends.

“There weren’t many dry eyes in the stadium after that.”

On Friday, the Pirates (10-1) face their fiercest—and final—test of the season in an Oakley team that also only lost to Kendrick during the regular season. And while Thorngren would want nothing more than to hoist the championship trophy for Dillon and the rest of the community, he already feels like they’ve won.

“We talk about discipline and purpose and trust—and the players do it now,” Thorngren said. “You just get that sense of purpose. We don’t know if we’re going to win or not, but it’s the way they’ve come together, no matter how this turns out, that shows we’ve already won.”

Dillon, who needs clearance from his doctor to attend the game in Pocatello, will be rooting hard for his teammates and friends whether he watches the game in person or streamed.

“I know if my team plays like they can and do what they’re told to, they’re going to win,” Dillon said. “I have no doubt about it. We have a good team this year, and I think they can beat Oakley.”

 
 




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