Bigger than football: Sioux Falls Washington teammates support brothers

Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 5:38 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The Sioux Falls Washington football team takes the field Friday in a clash against Rapid City Central, but there’s another battle that the Warriors are taking on off the field. The effort is in support of two teammates who lost their 22-year-old sister to a fentanyl overdose in 2019.

Gavin and Jack Kucera say that the team is like a brotherhood. That became even more apparent when the team showed support for them when their sister Shayla passed away.

“It was just a tough time,” explained Gavin Kucera, a senior right tackle for the Warriors. “We all knew that during that time, fentanyl was on the rise, but I never would have thought it would hit my family.”

Deaths due to opioid-related overdoses have been steadily on the rise since 2010. Nothing can make it more real than when it affects someone you know.

“Me and my sister were pretty tight,” Kucera said. “We always were at the house. We argued back and forth just like normal siblings did, but in the end, we were really close to each other. Always had big trust. She was just an amazing person. Always had a smile on her face every single time.”

The Washington football team continued to show more support in the years following Shayla’s passing by bringing attention to drug-related issues. The team already makes an effort to get involved in the community by adopting a highway, volunteering to referee FCA flag football and more. Supporting the family by showing up at the International Overdose Awareness Day Vigil just made sense.

“It started when Gavin was a freshman and we didn’t necessarily know why he missed practice,” said head coach Ryan Evans. “As a sophomore, he told us ‘This is where I’m going.’ We made an effort to make sure that we went that night. This year, this group said ‘Instead of having ten to twenty kids go, we want everybody to go and we want to wear jerseys.’ That’s what they did, so that was fantastic.”

The team stands together in their message. Overdoses affect more people than you might think and addiction is not something that should be taken lightly.

“Everybody says the normal thing like, ‘drugs are bad’, but it really hits different when it hits a family member,” Kucera described. “It might be fine in the first part, but in the end, it isn’t how it is. It’s more like a nightmare.”

Shayla Kucera actually passed away exactly on International Overdose Awareness Day, which is August 31st. Her memory lives on through her friends and family. Shayla was a graduate of Sioux Falls Lincoln High School, where she became involved in a number of activities including being part of the the color guard of the marching band. Her friends and family remember her as “a compassionate, tenacious young woman with a loving attitude toward her family and friends, contagious energy toward life, and fierce spirit of inclusion who was able to cheer you up with a hug, and light up a room with her smile.”