In the midst of the shock and heartache that set in after two students were critically injured in a car accident, a rallying cry emerged in the Bohemia Manor High School community Friday night in Chesapeake City, Md.
It was written on the cheeks of the cheerleaders who, without one of their squad members, had to perform on a day decidedly void of cheer.
It spread like wildfire online, where in just a few hours, more than 1,100 people had followed a Facebook page set up to show support for the injured students.
And it was in the hearts of the football players playing a game without one of their teammates.
Most likely, “stay strong” was directed at freshman Samantha Vinc and her boyfriend, sophomore Dustin Bartow, who both remain in Christiana Hospital battling severe injuries they suffered in the Thursday night crash.
But it also rings true to the hundreds of students, teachers and community members struggling to make sense of what happened to the well-liked teens.
“She’s touched so many people,” said freshman Dylan Hawkesworth, who noted that Bartow, as well, is popular among the student body. “The whole school is in mourning.”
Vinc, a 14-year-old from Cecilton, and Bartow, a 15-year-old from Chesapeake City, were injured when the car they were riding in slammed into a tree. The driver, Vinc’s mother, Sherri Ann Vinc, 42, suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the crash.
Police said Sherri Vinc was driving east on Courthouse Point Road near Shortcut Road, south of Chesapeake City, shortly after 8 p.m. when she inexplicably lost control of the vehicle, which veered off the road and struck a tree approximately 20 feet from the roadway.
It took rescuers 15 minutes to extricate the passengers from the vehicle, and the teens were then flown by helicopter to Christiana Hospital in Delaware. As of Friday evening, they remained in critical condition.
At Bo Manor’s football game against Elkton Friday night, competition took a backseat to efforts to show support for Vinc and Bartow.
A large poster adorned with dozens of handwritten messages hung from the bleachers, and at halftime, the players lined up on the field and held up signs that together spelled out “We send our prayers to Sam and Dustin.”
Hawkesworth organized the tribute, along with freshmen Gillian Criddle and Zari Ruley.
“We wanted to do something,” he said. “The best thing we could do is send our prayers.”
He described Vinc as a friendly, caring girl who always took time to lift up others.
“She always knows what to say to get you through a hard time,” Hawkesworth said.
Vinc is a member of the cheerleading squad and well-known throughout the school.
“Everybody loves Sam,” Ruley said.
Hawkesworth, who plays on the junior varsity football team with Bartow, described the teen as kind, athletic and devoted to Vinc.
“He’s always there for Sam,” he said. “He’s great to her.”
The two have been dating on and off for two years, Ruley said.
“They were so happy together,” she said. “They were so in love.”
Bo Manor football coach Todd Shives said the tragedy hit both the JV and varsity teams hard. The two squads practice together, and Bartow is well-liked among his teammates.
“He’s a nice, fun-loving kid,” Shives said. “He’s the type of kid who always has a smile on his face.”
He said the team met earlier in the day and quickly ruled out postponing the game.
“Honestly, the kids, along with the cheerleading squad, said ‘We want to play,’” Shives said. “I wasn’t going to deny them that.”
Reporter Carl Hamilton contributed to this article.