How David Tenison shepherded Beggs through grief to high school football state finals
BEGGS — David Tenison pulled his boss into a small room inside Crossroads Baptist Church to deliver the news.
His team wanted to play.
Only a few hours earlier, one of Tenison's football players had been killed, allegedly shot by his mother around dawn. The news shook awake the entire town of Beggs that November morning. The tiny Okmulgee County community reeled as reporters descended and helicopters hovered.
When athletic director Justin Been arrived at the church where the football team was sequestered, Tenison said the players wanted to play their game the next night.
Tenison must've seen doubt flash across his boss's face and began imploring Been that the adults had to honor the kids' wishes and to play as they thought Kayson Toliver would've wanted.
Been put his arm around Tenison's neck.
"Last January ... I knew you were going to be the right man for the job," Been said, "and today, I thank God that you are the right man."
On the eve of Beggs' improbable appearance in the Class 2A title game, there are many reasons for this team's success amid unimaginable grief. Players. Parents. Assistants. Teachers. The entire community has a role.
- Related to this story
- Video: Varsity football: Championship games
But no one has been more important than Tenison, the 59-year-old head coach who was semi-retired this time last year.
"I can't imagine a better leader to be guiding these young men and our school and our community through all this," Been said.
Secondary and offensive line coach David Shannon said, "It was just kind of meant to be for him to be here."
A few years ago, David Tenison bought a couple acres outside Beggs.
He had spent more than three decades teaching and coaching, including two stints as the defensive coordinator for the legendary Allan Trimble at Jenks. Tenison had won seven state titles alongside one of his best friends — he was the best man in Trimble's wedding — but Tenison was ready to retire.
With grandkids in Beggs, Tenison wanted to be close.
Lee Blankenship, then the head coach at Beggs, soon heard about the new neighbor and convinced Tenison to help the program. He was a volunteer. An assistant. A consultant. Over the past four years, he got to know the coaches, but he also got to know the players.
When Blankenship called last December and told Tenison that he was leaving for Bartlesville, he immediately thought of the kids.
"He wanted to make it as seamless a transition as possible," said Tenison's son, Damon, who played for his dad at Jenks and is now an assistant at Liberty High in Frisco, Texas. "He wanted a familiar face to stick around.”
Been was relieved when Tenison applied. The Beggs AD was getting lots of applicants. Good ones, too, since Beggs made the state finals last season and returned 24 seniors this season.
But no candidate promised as much competence or caring as Tenison.
"I know he prayed about it and really wanted to do what was right,” Blankenship said. “When he felt like he got the word that it was the right thing for him to do, he went all in."
No one in Beggs had any idea then how much they'd thank their lucky stars for that.
The night after Kayson Toliver and his two younger sisters were shot, Beggs gathered for a candlelight vigil.
Tenison didn't mince words when he spoke.
"It's heartbreaking," the coach said. "It's just hard to overcome."
His message to his players and assistants had been similar. He didn't try to sugarcoat emotions or assuage feelings. He told them it was OK to hurt.
He watched Trimble say similar things 12 years ago after a car accident involving seven football players killed Jenks starting center Garrett Bennett.
"You've been through this situation before," Damon Tenison told his dad after Kayson was killed. "I feel like God put you there for a reason."
As the hours after Kayson's death turned to days and the days turned to weeks, Tenison continued talking about handling hurt. He told his team that grief is like a Rubik's cube, something you can't put down at first but will still be there even after it's no longer the focus of your life.
Talk to almost any player at Beggs about how they've handled this past month, and they'll likely bring up the Rubik's cube analogy.
The players had come to trust Tenison because of how he took over the program. He didn't upset their apple cart. If anything, he tried to keep all the produce in the exact same spot. Practices. Routines. Schemes.
That built respect, and that built trust. The players knew they could lean on him when Kayson died and he wouldn't let them fall.
And he hasn't.
"He stayed extremely strong for everybody," said Shannon, the secondary and offensive line coach, "but it couldn't help but to affect each person. It affected him. I really believe that just his wisdom and his faith really allowed him to stay strong for everybody."
David Tenison has been sustained.
So has Beggs.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
CLASS 2A STATE FINAL
•Who: Beggs vs. Sperry
•When: 7 p.m. Thursday
•Where: Owasso High School