by James Peters and Jaime Ciavarra
Michael Tyler, the 16-year-old wrestler who died Friday after breaking his neck during a match three weeks earlier, is being remembered not just for his prowess in sports, but for his heart, his friendship and his joy of life.
Family and friends will gather this weekend to remember the Watkins Mill High School junior, who was also a member of the football team.
After he suffered severe brain damage last week, Tyler's family decided to remove the ventilator that helped him breathe.
Tyler was injured Jan. 7 during a 173-pound match at a wrestling tournament at Walter Johnson High in Bethesda. He fractured two vertebrae and dislocated his spine, but had appeared to be getting better.
On Sunday, Jan. 22, he watched the NFL conference championship games with Richard Montgomery sophomore Ross Lary, who was wrestling Tyler when he was hurt.
The next day, Tyler was moved from Baltimore's Shock Trauma Center to a Washington, D.C., rehabilitation center.
''We moved him on [Jan. 23] and there was no problem," said Tyler's stepfather, Perry Young. ''Michael was a little nervous because he was so used to the nurses at the shock trauma unit."
On Tuesday, a package arrived from the Dallas Cowboys. Young and Tyler's mother, Silvia, asked the 16-year-old if he wanted to open it. Tyler told them he just wanted to sleep.
The Youngs were making plans about bringing Tyler home when a nurse told them Tyler's heart rate had ''skyrocketed and his blood pressure plummeted."
''When I looked in there, 11 people were working on him," Perry Young said. ''It looked like he was going into cardiac arrest. I could see his stomach bouncing up and down. They called Children's Hospital and rushed him over there. At some point, he lost consciousness and never regained it."
Young and his family later learned that Tyler had suffered significant damage to his brain because of a loss of oxygen.
After Tyler suffered more brain damage over the next two days, Young and his wife summoned their immediate family to their Montgomery Village home on Friday and announced their intention to remove Tyler from the ventilator that helped him breathe.
The family gave them the support they had hoped for, Young said.
''We spent a last few moments and then told doctors that we're ready, and he removed the ventilator," he said. ''His heart continued to beat for about three minutes. The doctor said he was pretty much ready to go. He went smoothly. It was nothing out of the norm."
Tyler's wrestling coach, Steve Kachadorian, learned of Tyler's failing condition Thursday night and held a meeting with his team on Friday.
''We focused on supporting each other and making sure the kids were understanding the gravity of the situation," Kachadorian said. ''They were upset, very upset about it. They asked what they could do to support the family. A lot of us are starting to celebrate Mike's life and the good man that we knew."
Approximately 150 students held a vigil on the football field Friday night, and Watkins Mill's boys and girls basketball games against Damascus were postponed. About 15 crisis counselors have been brought in by the school to help students. But a lot of Tyler's friends still have questions.
''You're always in danger in everything you do," said Mark Wilson, a senior teammate and friend. ''You could trip down the stairs and the same thing could happen."
The students who passed out white ribbons on Friday to show hope for Tyler's recovery are now wearing them in remembrance of Tyler.
Tyler made people laugh, and was famous for his impromptu dances when listening to tunes on his iPod, senior teammate Jon Marmer remembered.
''He crossed over a lot of cliques " athlete, non-athlete, black, white," said Watkins Mill Principal Peter Cahall, a former wrestling coach who visited Tyler twice in the hospital.
The mood at the school has swung back and forth over the past three weeks since Tyler was injured. On Monday it had turned from mourning to acceptance and hope, Cahall said.
Signs of Tyler can still be seen at Watkins Mill. His name is on the school's signboard at the entrance, and his football number, 41, is spelled out in plastic cups around the athletic field's chainlink fence.
Students are brainstorming ideas to memorialize their friend with a scholarship or a 5K race.
Cahall, who greets students in the high school's lobby in the morning, remembered shaking Tyler's hand every day, chatting about sports and making jokes about who was stronger.
''He always had a big smile on his face," Cahall said.
''He's not going to be forgotten."