GOSHEN — Jim Buller will remember Anna Barnard for her smile and for her gregarious personality.
Anna's coach, Krysten Parsons, said Anna's passion for the game of soccer and ability to relate to all age groups at Bethany Christian set her apart.
And of course, her classmates and teammates are simply mourning the death of an 18-year-old. Barnard, who held dual U.S. and Belgian citizenship and was in her senior year at Bethany Christian, died in a two-car crash on S.R. 23 near Fir Road in Granger on Sunday.
Buller, a longtime counselor at Bethany and a former boys basketball coach, was on a trip to Colorado when he heard the news.
"She was just such a warm and gregarious student with a very outgoing personality,'' Buller said. "She had a great smile and did a lot mentoring to students in our younger grades as a teacher's aid. To me, you could hardly be around her and not like her instantly."
He said Anna's death will be tough for the small faith-based school to mourn.
"This will be very difficult for our close-knit community. She was very well liked and a very good athlete," Buller said. "It was very easy for her to travel in and out of different circles of people just because of the way she was.''
EVENING OUT TURNS TRAGIC
Barnard came to Bethany Christian in the fall of 2015 through local family connections. Just over a month later, she chose to live with Parsons, who coaches both basketball and softball at Bethany.
"I loved her like a daughter,'' Parsons said on Monday. "We gave her a choice of who she would live with here and she chose me. I'm not married and don't have kids of my own, but it felt like the right thing to do and that I needed to do it. She was planning to stay until she graduated.''
Parsons said Barnard had slept in on Sunday, before meeting some friends and working on some gingerbread houses with Parsons and having some pizza. Later in the afternoon, Barnard and a close friend decided to take a trip to University Park Mall in Mishawaka.
"I remember telling them to have fun and be really careful on the road,'' Parsons said. "A couple hours later, I got a call from her friend telling me that there had been an accident and that Anna was on her way to Memorial Hospital ER.''
Parsons said she called a friend who works at the hospital to try and get information. When the friend called back, it was with terrible news.
"She told me to bring people that could support me,'' Parsons said quietly.
EVOLVING TWO-SPORT ATHLETE
In her first year at Bethany, Barnard played with the boys soccer team, as the school did not yet have a girls team. Then last fall, she was an All-Northern Indiana Soccer Conference selection – the first year that the Bruins brought girls soccer back. The team reached the Class A sectional finals before losing to 16th-ranked Westview.
"Soccer was her passion and she really had a great year,'' Parsons said. "She was hoping to play soccer in college and then eventually become a coach. She was a forward at heart, but they really need her at midfield, so that's where she played. The younger kids really looked up to her and she was a big part in rebuilding our program."
Anna wanted to inspire younger students to play soccer, as well.
"That's one of the interesting things about Anna. She reached out to kids from fourth grade to seniors and there was no divide. The little kids just loved her, the middle schoolers looked up to her and everyone in high school loved her," Parsons said. "She lived with me for over a year and it seemed like she never hung out with the same person. She was a total networker.''
While soccer came naturally to Anna, basketball was something new. But Parsons said Anna enjoyed her time and was a member of the Bruins' 2016 sectional championship team.
"She really hadn't played much organized basketball and she wasn't a great player, but she enjoyed being with our kids,'' Parsons said. "But that was just Anna. She jumped into it with both feet and didn't worry about being vulnerable. She just had fun.''
BRUINS WANT TO PLAY
Parsons and the Bethany Christian team met late into the evening on Sunday and then, with the school on winter break, had a light practice on Monday, before having a meal together.
"The girls are just devastated, obviously, as they've dealt with a lot of adversity already this season and now they've lost a teammate,'' Parsons said. "But they've also been very resilient and I have no doubt they will rise up. We will grieve as a team, but we will continue to love each other and remember how Anna always made people laugh and how her smile would just light up the room."
Sunday evening's team meeting was poignant, as her teammates began to grieve Anna's loss.
"We had every player there on Sunday and we just prayed and shared stories. There are so many memories and pictures and it seemed like every picture Anna was being goofy. The girls told me if there was ever drama around a team or even a group, Anna would just sing a song as loud as she could to try and make everyone smile.''
Parsons said the Bruins have decided to play their home game with Concord on Tuesday.
"The majority of the girls said they wanted to play and they knew Anna would want us to,'' Parsons said. "We know it could be messy and if some girls can't play, we're sure not going to make them. This is real-life stuff and something teenagers shouldn't have to deal with.
"But we have to take the good with the bad, push ahead and try to go on. If their feelings change by Tuesday afternoon, I understand.''
Concord has already reached out to Bethany Christian and will honor the choice of the school. The Minutemen's junior varsity coach is Beth Barwick, while the freshman coach is her twin sister Kate Barwick, who each played for the Bruins basketball team.
"The Barwicks know about the community we have at Bethany, so that is a good thing going into the game,'' Parsons said. "It is a very special connection we all have here. What happened is just so tough, but thanks to the Bethany community, there is nowhere else I'd rather be.''