The sense of relief at the South Windsor High girls soccer game Thursday was palpable, as the players and head coach had recently received word that school physical education teacher James Warnock’s condition had been upgraded from ‘serious’ to ‘good’ at Hartford Hospital.
Warnock, a Somers resident, and fellow South Windsor High School physical education teacher Brenden McClay of West Hartford were struck while walking on the high school’s driveway by a car driven by 19-year-old Keith Huppe on Wednesday morning.
Both teachers were on their way to set up activites on a lower athletic field for the students who were not taking the PSAT at the high school.
While McClay broke a collarbone and was released from the hospital on Wednesday evening, Warnock hit his head hard enough to break the car’s windshield and sustained more significant injuries.
Both men are popular teachers at the high school, so when the news of their improving conditions became public, it was almost possible to hear a collective sigh of relief come from South Windsor, West Hartford and Somers.
“I’ve had both McClay and Warnock as gym teachers - they’re the best guys,” said Christine Allard, a South Windsor High girls soccer player. “They’ve always got a smile on their faces. They are really involved with athletics, they’re big with Unified Sports - they do so much for the high school. We were all distraught yesterday. To hear they are going to be OK means more than anything to the kids at the high school.”
When the high school community found out Wednesday afternoon that McClay’s status was stable, the attention quickly shifted to Warnock, who was listed for most of the day as being in serious condition.
“Everyone knows who Warnock is,” said Tori Russo, another member of the South Windsor High girls soccer team. “He talks to everyone. He’s friends with everyone. Everyone was concerned when they heard about the accident. So when they heard about his condition [improving], it was a sigh of relief for everyone. He’s still not 100 percent. We’re out here playing and running just for him and Mr. McClay, too.”
And the Bobcats girls soccer team went out and defeated East Catholic High 1-0 in Manchester, with the players fueled by their support for Warnock.
“Before the game, we were saying, ‘For Warnock, for Warnock, for Warnock, we’re going to play this for Warnock,’” Allard said. “It just shows how much he means to us and how much he’s affected us.”
Rebecca Karlins, who scored the game-winning goal Thursday, said that the outpouring of support was not surprising, as both McClay and Warnock are inspiring teachers.
“They’re encouraging of everyone,” Karlins said. “They can always cheer you up. They’re two people who are really caring that people can trust.”
But Warnock’s and McClay’s collective influence doesn’t just end with the players. An emotional Bobcats head coach Ed Duclos, who is close to Warnock, struggled to find words to describe how much it meant to him and the high school community to know that his friend was going to be OK.
“Jim’s a dear friend,” said Duclos, his voice breaking. “He’s worked with us. … So yeah, it was on our mind. He’s done a lot with us. We are just trying to figure out different ways to help out him and his family.”
Duclos said that after school yesterday, he and the players went into a classroom to talk rather than practice.
“Some of the things we knew were iffy,” Duclos said. “You keep thinking worst-case scenario, and then you find out, no, it’s not going to happen, it’s just wonderful. ...
“He’s just a special person. He means so much to this school. … He’s energy in the school.”
McClay, according to sources, is expected to go back to work sometime next week, while Warnock has a longer road ahead of him in terms of his physical recovery.
As of Thursday evening, no charges had been filed against Huppe in relation to the accident.
South Windsor Chief of Police Matthew Reed said in an interview that the Metro Traffic Services accident reconstruction team was planning on returning to the scene Thursday morning to determine whether the sun’s glare could have played a part in the incident.
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