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West Central Area mourns the loss of fun-loving, dedicated student-athlete

Tyler Stone was an integral part of the West Central Area-Ashby football team that finished second at the state tournament in 2021. Coaches describe him as a fun-loving personality, and a terrific teammate as friends and family mourn another tragedy in the WCA community after Stone died in a car accident on Sept. 11, 2022.

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Tyler Stone, 65, runs off the field after a win during the West Central Area football team's 2021 season that ended with the Knights finishing second at the Class AA state tournament. Members of the West Central Area community are mourning the loss of Stone after the 18-year-old was killed in an automobile accident on Sept. 11, 2022.
Contributed photo by Tammie Olson Photography
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GRANT COUNTY — The city of Hoffman and the surrounding towns that make up the West Central Area community are in mourning after a car accident took the life of one of their friends and family members late in the afternoon on Sept. 11.

Tyler David Stone was an 18-year-old senior at West Central Area High School in Barrett. According to a crash report from the Minnesota State Patrol, Stone died in a head-on collision on Sunday when the 2007 Chevrolet Impala he was driving eastbound collided with a 2020 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Dalton James Johnson, a 23-year-old from Brandon. Johnson was traveling westbound.

Johnson was taken to the Prairie Ridge Hospital in Elbow Lake with non-life threatening injuries. The crash happened at Highway 79 and County Road 21 near Sanford Township in Grant County at 4:29 p.m. Both drivers were wearing seatbelts, according to the state patrol report.

The West Central Area community has dealt with multiple tragedies in recent years that included losing a key figure in the school when dean of students and activities director, Pat Anderson, was killed in a utility vehicle crash near Kensington on July 30, 2016. Anderson's son, Ben, died in a snowmobile accident at the age of 22 in the winter of 2020.

“You used the word devastating, and I think that really hits the nail on the head,” WCA student counselor and varsity football coach Nate Wood said on Monday. “West Central has gone through so many tragedies in the last few years, from when PA died, and his son, and we lost a student in an automobile accident I think in 2017 and then a student a year and a half ago. Now another student. It is devastating, and then you have this residual trauma that’s happening as well. It just all around makes things really, really hard.”

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A terrific teammate

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Tyler Stone throws the shot put at the West Central Conference championship meet on May 17, 2022 for West Central Area. Stone was a competitive three-sport athlete for the Knights in track and field, wrestling and football.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Stone was a three-sport athlete in wrestling, track and field and football for the Knights. He was an integral part of the 2021 WCA-Ashby football team that finished 11-2 and in second place at the Class AA state tournament.

Stone wore No. 65 in football last season when he played defensive end and right tackle on offense. He switched to No. 45 this fall when making the move to fullback on the offensive side of the ball while also still anchoring the defensive end position.

Stone’s willingness to move from the offensive line to fullback epitomized who he was as an athlete and a teammate, his coaches say.

“He just wanted to win,” Wood said. “He wanted to make the team better, and if it was on the line, he would be on the line. If it was in the backfield, he would be in the backfield. He would do whatever was asked, run through a wall if you asked him to.”

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Tyler Stone tries to jump on a fumble during the Knights' Class AA state semifinals game against Maple River on Nov. 19, 2021. Stone played both defensive end and right tackle on offense for that 2021 team that finished 11-2 overall, and he had made the move to fullback this season while still playing defensively at the end position again.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Brandon Gruchow, a teacher and coach at West Central Area, got to know Stone from an early age by working with him in youth sports at the middle school level and then watched his passion for athletics grow.

Stone’s last wrestling match this past winter came at the state tournament where the Knights finished third in the Class A field. West Central Area wrestled eventual state champion Jackson County Central in the semifinals.

Stone wrestled between 220 pounds and heavyweight as a junior. Jackson County Central had already wrapped up the team win in the state semifinals last year when Gruchow was thinking ahead to his lineup for the third-place match against Dover-Eyota.

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Tyler Stone, back, takes control in a wrestling match during the 2021-22 season.
Contributed photo by Tammie Olson Photography

“We had lost the dual (against JCC), and I said I would like to save Justin (Blascyk) for this next match,” Gruchow recalled. “I just asked Tyler, ‘Can I use you (at heavyweight)?’ He said, ‘For sure. Definitely.’ He was so good about it. Just a great team player, smiling, bubbly all the time. I got to work with him in junior high football. Got to coach him in wrestling, got to work with him as a student in my classroom. I had him a couple hours a day at times. Just an overall genuine, nice kid who liked to work hard and get better and improve. He truly just loved football.”

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Wood said that Stone had not committed to a college program yet in football, but that he was getting some heavy interest from Division II programs.

That is a testament to the work Stone put in to be as good as he could be. At 6-feet and nearly 220 pounds, he led by example in the weight room.

“He modeled so many positive examples,” Wood said. “He modeled hard work and commitment. He was one of our best and strongest kids in the weight room. He modeled positivity where he was going to try to say something that would make whatever the situation was better, and then just play like a beast on the field. You don’t get too many football players like him either. He exemplified a lot of different characteristics.”

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West Central Area senior Tyler Stone cracks a smile as he hugs teammate Owen Sanstead, 65, with Damon Sanstead, 72, laughing in the background during picture day for the 2022 fall season.
Contributed photo by Tammie Olson Photography

Off the field, Wood and Gruchow both talked about a kid who loved to have fun.

“It was his charisma and his humor with other people,” Wood said. “A lot of the pictures that are being shared are of him being a goofball and hugging people and making faces in the background. He just was a very magnetic person. Always smiling, always happy, had an awesome mullet, and was just a really, really good kid.”

Support for students, a Friday night game

Wood called Monday a “really, really hard day” as he tried to balance his own emotions along with his responsibilities as a student counselor and head football coach.

West Central Area faculty members met as a staff first thing Monday morning. They then met with the senior class, a group that also lost another classmate in 2021 when 16-year-old Taylor Mattson was one of two people killed in a car accident on April 22.

“We do have multiple counselors who have come in,” Wood said of support being offered for students. “Both our elementary and middle school counselors are here. Ashby sent their counselor. A lot of other schools have reached out. We just felt at this point that we maybe didn’t need to bring in too many outside resources. Morris generously offered. Alexandria has offered. We had some clergy here as well.”

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Wood also met with his football team on Monday morning. The Knights are scheduled to play in Pillager on Friday night at 7.

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Tyler Stone with his No. 45 jersey he wore for the Knights this fall season. Stone was a fixture on both sides of the ball for WCA where he played fullback and defensive end this season after playing right tackle on the offensive side of the ball in 2021.
Contributed photo by Tammie Olson Photography

“We are planning to play. We know that’s what Tyler would want,” Wood said. “We approached it with this idea that we need to support each other and help each other through. There’s no easy answers to any of this. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. We want them to take this and look at it as it really doesn’t matter if you fill a defensive gap or not, or if you lose a game. Just imagine you’re playing your last game with Tyler. We did that (last Friday) and we didn’t know it, so every play from here on out, imagine that you’re playing with him one last time.”

West Central Area-Ashby is 1-1 heading into that game after a loss to Barnesville and a 43-7 win over Staples-Motley on Sept. 9. Stone had a touchdown run along with three tackles in helping his team to that win.

Stone has been a huge part of this WCA-Ashby program that has had so much success in recent years. He will continue to be as these players and coaches try to work through losing him when they get back on the field in the coming weeks.

“I think the impact he’s going to have on this specific team is going to be indescribable,” Wood said. “Everyone knows what a fierce competitor he was. It’s going to push the guys even more to want to be successful for him and do things for him.”

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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