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Town, school coping with losses of two Elgin athletes Willie Simmons, Alyssa Broderick



ELGIN, TX ⁠— Adam Adams has been more than the high school’s softball coach during this week of turmoil and tragedy.

While his players compete for playoff seeding, they are burdened by the senseless losses of two of their classmates. Willie Simmons III and Alyssa Broderick were beloved classmates who made everlasting imprints on the football field and basketball court. This tight-knit school of 1,335 students is mourning the deaths of two friends who represented Elgin High with pride.

The pain is still fresh. This is not supposed to happen in small-town America. Two student-athletes who have been robbed of promising futures are being remembered this week. Friends and strangers have decorated the campus flag pole with flowers. A candlelight vigil on Sunday and a memorial service at the stadium on Wednesday gave the student body time to reflect.

Before the softball team took the field on Monday night against Connally, a sparse crowd stood for a moment of silence.

“You feel lost and you can see that the players are lost, too,” Adams said. “You try to make them feel better in some way, but there’s not much you can do to. You just try your best.”

As Adams and a few athletes and coaches have learned, it’s impossible to make sense of a senseless act of rage.

On Sunday, Simmons, Broderick and Broderick’s mother, Amanda Broderick, were shot and killed allegedly by Stephen Broderick, a former sheriff’s detective, near the Arboretum in Northwest Austin.

“I felt like my soul had just left my body,” said Omasha Brantley, who coached Simmons and Broderick when he taught at Elgin High from 2017 to 2019. Now an assistant football coach at LBJ, Brantley said he was so shaken when he learned of the tragedy, he had to pull his car to the side of the road to collect himself.

“I had called several coaches who I had worked with and some of Willie’s closest friends to confirm I was getting the right information,” Brantley said this week.

Brantley remembers Simmons as a team leader who was enormously popular inside the school. He was looking forward to the next chapter of his life ⁠— he had signed a scholarship to play football at the University of North Texas this fall ⁠— when he was killed.

Brantley visited Elgin High on Monday and spoke to a few athletes who knew Simmons and Broderick. He said his role was to “remain strong” when speaking to the students because they were in obvious pain.

“Our daily role as coaches is to be there for the kids,” he said. “Some of these kids have never experienced death and we have to stay strong for them. I didn’t cry in front of them. I told them I’m here for you guys.”

Brantley said he has cried during private moments. “I don’t have any tears left,” he said.

Simmons’ football coach at Elgin, Jens Anderson, said his work ethic made him a special player who was respected by his teammates.

“He was God-gifted with talent, but he worked his tail off to get where he was,” Anderson said. “I think his teammates saw how hard he worked and respected him for it.  He was everything you could ask for as a player, a teammate and a friend.”

North Texas coach Seth Littrell paid respects to Simmons on his Twitter page Tuesday: “Willie Simmons was exactly the kind of young man that every college coach wants to recruit. His athletic talent was obvious, but his personal character, his selfless attitude and his passion for life made him a natural leader and the perfect teammate. We are deeply saddened by his loss and we pray for peace and comfort for his family, friends and the Elgin community. He will forever be a member of our Mean Green football family.”

Brantley was accompanied Monday by Hays basketball coach Madison Koehler, who was head coach at Elgin from 2017 to 2019. Koehler said she had a special bond with Broderick, a player she remembered as far back as middle school.

“When I had my interview, I heard about this incoming eighth-grader who was going to change Elgin, Texas,” Koehler recalled. “She was going to change the girls basketball program. I saw her that first summer and she was exactly who I thought she was going to be. She was a fantastic athlete in her own right. So coachable and ready to work. In her first game in eighth grade she tore her ACL and that was hard for everyone. But when she got back, you couldn’t tell (she had been injured). She had a goal of being on varsity and she had bigger plans.”

Koehler said she also knew Simmons because he attended her freshman English class.

“The hardest part about this whole thing is that their futures were so bright,” Koehler said. “You could see the success oozing out of them in their drive and their humility towards everything. They wanted to be great.”

Elgin superintendent Jodi Duron said the district has provided counselors and trained professionals to assist students, staff and families during this “time of grief.”

Among the athletes who was devastated by Sunday’s shootings was Morgan Heine, a four-year starting catcher for the softball team. She said she “almost didn’t make it” through Elgin’s 10-0 victory over Connally. During one sequence, she stepped out of the batter’s box and pretended to tie her shoelaces. That gave her a few extra moments to fight back tears before taking a swing.

“Willie was someone who lit up the room when he’d walk in,” she said during a postgame interview. “If you’re ever in trouble, he’s the first person you would call. He’d help you through it.”

When tears began to moisten her eyes, Adams stepped in and put his arm around her shoulders. As he would put it, it’s his responsibility to protect his players on and off the diamond.

“The last few days have been really trying for Elgin ISD,” the coach said. “Those two students are on our mind completely and in every way.”