Kuna rallies around injured football player

Community lends support in variety of ways after wide receiver suffers serious neck injury

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comNovember 11, 2013 

One of the reasons Kuna football coach Lee Leslie recruited Boone Bartlome to his team is the junior wide receiver's uncommon sense of humor.

In the days since Bartlome broke his neck in Kuna's playoff game Friday at Bishop Kelly, that sense of humor has helped him — and those around him — deal with an uncertain present and future.

Bartlome underwent successful surgery to repair his fourth cervical vertebra (C4). He remains in intensive care at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center with spinal cord swelling. There is no prognosis for his long-term recovery, Leslie told a crowd of nearly 800 who rallied for Bartlome at Kuna High on Monday afternoon.

"The first thing he asked me was could I get him a pizza," friend Danny Ewing said Monday during the rally. "He said he'll eat it as soon as he can."

"Man, these nurses. They can't wait to get my clothes off," Bartlome told best friend Justin Kalousek during a visit. "Gotta love Boone."

That was the theme Monday as students, teachers, football players and others gathered in the school's auditorium for an update on Bartlome, a popular junior wide receiver and track star.

"I have no doubt that Boone Bartlome knows hundreds of people, because that's who he is. I guarantee before this is over he's going to know hundreds of thousands of people because of the inspiration he is going to be throughout this challenge in his life," Leslie said.

Bartlome (pronounced BART-la-may) was injured in the first quarter of Friday night's game. Lined up to the left, he was blocking on a running play when he stumbled into a teammate, who was engaged in a block. Bartlome immediately fell backward.

The entire play looked innocent. Bartlome took a much bigger hit on an earlier kickoff return.

"I walked up to him first, and I came over his face to see his eyes open. I said, 'Are you OK?' He said, 'Coach, I don't think so.' He remained reverent and quiet like that throughout the whole process of them checking him out," Leslie said.

"He was as courageous as anyone that I've ever seen in my life. I'm grateful to know this kid and to help him."

The game was halted for more than 30 minutes as Bartlome was tended to on the field, then put in an ambulance. Players and coaches from both teams gathered for prayer near midfield after he left the field. (Scroll to end of story to watch a video with scenes from Friday's game)

"Before he got loaded, he said, 'Coach, tell those kids to win this game.' We couldn't. We were more worried about him than the football game," Leslie said.

Bishop Kelly beat Kuna, 42-6.

Bartlome underwent a three-hour surgery, which included placing a titanium rod in his neck. His spinal cord was not severed, but it was damaged. It is too early to know the extent of Bartlome's injuries, Leslie said.

"Is he moving? Does he have a chance? Those are all honest questions," Leslie said. "... He's got a battle on his hands. Until that swelling goes down, we don't know anything."

Friends, acquaintances and even opponents have shown up to lend their support. About 30 Bishop Kelly players and two coaches came to the hospital Sunday. The Bishop Kelly cheer squad sent flowers to Kuna High on Monday and at least two members of the team attended Monday's rally.

So many others have gone to the hospital that Leslie said they need to coordinate visits. Friends have flooded Bartlome's Facebook page with messages of hope and well-wishes. He reads them all, said his only sibling, sister Bailey Bartlome.

"He really does appreciate it, and I know I do, too," said Bailey, who graduated from Kuna High last year and is a student at College of Southern Idaho. "Boone has been loving seeing his friends and seeing people care about him. That's the best thing for us, is to see him happy."

She attended Friday night's game and left the hospital for the first time to attend Monday's rally. She said her parents, Shane and Diana, have yet to leave Boone's side.

Members of the entire Kuna community have responded to Boone's plight. They established a CaringBridge.org page as a place to get updates on Bartlome's condition, make donations and leave notes of encouragement. They created a calendar for donated meals at TakeThemAMeal.com.

Friends are selling T-shirts with a silhouette of a cowboy and Bartlome's No. 2 on the front to raise money for his medical care.

Bartlome is covered by the Idaho High School Activities Association catastrophic health insurance policy, the group's executive director, John Billetz said. Schools and the IHSAA pay premiums each year to cover every athlete participating in a sanctioned sport.

Kalousek, his best friend, is organizing an effort to raise money to fix up Bartlome's 1993 Dodge occasionally muddy pickup. Leslie asked students to donate $2 for No. 2's cause.

"He wants to paint it electric blue. He wants an American flag on the roof and the tailgate," Kalousek said.

Bartlome is an avid outdoorsman and athlete. In the posters for Monday's — part informational meeting, part cathartic spirit-lifter — Bartlome was pictured with his Labrador, Zeke, wake-boarding, horse-riding and posing with an elk he shot earlier this month.

"He's good at everything," Kalousek said.

That's the kind of guy Leslie wanted on his team. The Kavemen went 7-2 this season and earned a spot in the state playoffs for the first time since 2007. They were aiming for a state title.

Now they have a new purpose, supporting Bartlome and his family for as long as it takes.

"When he walks into this school to thank you guys," Leslie said, "that'll be our state championship."

Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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