The Houston Dynamo rallied to defeat New York City FC 3-1 on Friday night on the strength of two second-half goals, but what took place earlier in the night will leave the most lasting impression on everyone in attendance.
A week after the shocking events at Santa Fe High School, the Dynamo honored the memory of the 10 victims and mourned together with the survivors and members of the Santa Fe community. More than 500 Santa Fe residents were in attendance Friday after both Dynamo and Dash teams attended a private community event earlier in the week. Players and team staff handed out free tickets at the event, offering students and their families a chance to get out for a night and enjoy themselves again.
The story that led to the club’s involvement with Santa Fe dates back five years and 1,700 miles, when Dynamo president Chris Canetti organized the Soccer Night in Newtown event to benefit that community in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. A volunteer photographer named Susan Leining traveled to Connecticut for the event.
Five years later, a similar tragedy struck Leining’s home town, and students at Santa Fe High School told her how they wanted to do something about it, so she offered to connect them with someone who had experience dealing with a sadly similar situation.
Santa Fe senior Annabelle O’Day reached out to Canetti to share a speech she had written that outlined her feelings in the aftermath of the event as well as the goal that she and her classmates had of preventing future attacks by changing people’s hearts. The organization they determined to form would be called Hearts United.
Prior to kickoff, the Dynamo and New York City FC came together at midfield for a joint team photo while holding a banner that read “UNITED FOR SANTA FE” and bore the newly-created Hearts United logo.
At halftime, O’Day and her fellow seniors Katie Oldham, Kaitlyn Richards and Madison McCaskill were joined on the field at halftime by several of their classmates as they told their story publicly.
“The way to combat hatred is with love. This love comes from the heart,” O’Day told the crowd, reading from the remarks she initially shared with Canetti. “The heart is a complex organ vital to life, but also the place that holds roots of anger, peace, hate and love. And the only way to combat an evil heart is with a good one.
“We cannot let our hearts become cold. We cannot let our hearts become hardened,” she continued. “We must come together and save hearts. We must love each other, overcome differences, and become united. We must move forward and save hearts. Hearts United means looking past all differences and loving each other.”
That love was on display throughout the night Friday, from the players to the fans who held their cell phone flashlights aloft in the 10th minute to honor the victims of last week’s shooting, to the standing ovation that the Santa Fe students received after they spoke to the crowd.
Fans who wish to help can do so in a number of ways. Dynamo Charities is conducting an online auction throughout this weekend, with the proceeds going to benefit the Santa Fe community. O’Day, Oldham, Richards and McCaskill have organized a free community event on Monday, Memorial Day, at the park next to Bruce Library in Santa Fe. They will be selling t-shirts to raise money for scholarships for Santa Fe students and to help the families of victims. Dynamo corporate partners such as Kroger and Pepsi have donated food and beverages for the event, and BBVA Compass Stadium vendors have volunteered to assist in food preparation and cleanup.
Events like last Friday have no place in our world, and while debate takes place in the policy realm of how to bring these tragedies to an end, we can all bring change in our own communities and relationships by acting in love with our hearts united.