Thursday, May 25, 2023 | 2 a.m.
The flag football state championship game had just concluded, and the Desert Oasis players had begun gathering to celebrate their win over Legacy. Amid the chaos, coach Todd Thomson began frantically searching for the game ball.
After he located it, Thomson headed straight toward the sidelines to greet the parents of Ashari Hughes, a Desert Oasis defensive back who died at a game earlier in the season. The victory—and the season—was all for “Shari.”
The team presented the game ball to Hughes’ family, and everyone embraced. There wasn’t a dry eye to be found.
Hughes died January 5 after going into cardiac arrest following a game. One minute she was taking part in a victory against Valley, the next she was unresponsive and undergoing CPR. She was stable and alert when being transported from the school—the last time her teammates would see her alive. She died shortly after leaving the field.
The team wanted to win the championship for their fallen friend. They spent many long days and nights grieving together, ultimately coming together with a common purpose: to play for Shari.
“It was a lot to process, and I’m an adult,” Thomson said. “I’m competitive as a coach, and in the days after she died, I didn’t know if I could [carry on]. I wanted to keep coaching, but all of a sudden, winning and losing didn’t matter.”
Teammates described Hughes as a sweet person whom everyone considered a close friend. She had just started attending Desert Oasis, but many said they felt a lifelong bond with her.
The team won all 15 of its games following her death, and most came in blowout fashion—Desert Oasis outscored opponents 519-132 during the span.
The closest result was an overtime victory in the semifinals against Del Sol, a back-and-forth affair. Desert Oasis’ players knew they were determined to give their all for Hughes, because she gave everything she had for them.
“I don’t think there was any pressure to win, because if we played our hardest, we knew we had the team that could do it,” said Mackenzie Cuddihy, one of the team’s captains. “Playing for [Hughes] motivated us to be at our best.”
It seemed only fitting that, minutes after the championship was clinched, the family was front and center to share in the joy. What a moment.
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.