Michael Sudbrink sat on the sidelines Tuesday night with his youngest daughter, Kiley. As they waited for the girls varsity basketball game to start, Michael stroked Kiley’s hair, kissed her forehead and held her close.
Kiley, 7, a spitting image of her older sister Shelby when she was that age, wore a Templeton High School basketball jersey with a No. 12 — her sister’s number. Kiley and her father were preparing for a moment neither had ever imagined.
The gym was packed, and everyone taking shelter on the rainy night knew the Sudbrinks’ tragic story. Four days earlier, 17-year-old Shelby Sudbrink of Atascadero died suddenly when her Toyota 4Runner slammed into a tree on Templeton Road.
To honor her, the crowd in the stands Tuesday set aside their Templeton green and wore blue, Shelby’s favorite color. It was a continuation of the support shown in the days following her death. More than $37,000 has already been donated to the family to cover funeral costs.
The tributes kept coming, and they filled every inch of the gym with emotion.
When the Templeton team ran onto the court, each player was wearing a T-shirt with the No. 12 on the back. Scribbled below the number was the phrase “Hell Yeah,” one of Shelby’s favorite expressions.
When starting lineups were announced, Kiley ran onto the floor to join the team in her sister’s place and was hoisted high into the air by captain Annie Elterman.
The crowd cheered. Some choked up.
Templeton then started the game with four players, leaving a spot open for their beloved co-captain.
“It was amazing. It was humbling,” Michael Sudbrink said after the game. “I felt that Shelby was with us tonight. I really did.”
When the game against Santa Maria began, Shelby’s presence persisted. Elterman scored the first points of the game and pointed to the sky.
“Obviously it was in our heads the entire time,” Elterman said. “We just wanted to do it for the family and also for ourselves to know that we can overcome this adversity. She would want us to get through this season and win.”
Templeton head coach Shawn Koehler said it was the team’s idea to start the game with four players.
“I told the girls last night, ‘I don’t have a playbook for this,’ ” Koehler said. “This is something we are going to have to go through day by day. We are just trying to get a grip around it and go forward.”
The best way to honor her on the court outside of tributes, Koehler told his team, is to play the way Shelby did — with grit and focus.
“She was a blue-collar basketball player,” Koehler said. “She was diving on the floor for loose balls. She was getting every 50-50 ball. She was a quiet, hardworking player.”
Templeton did exactly that in its first game since the tragedy.
Templeton (7-7, 3-2 Los Padres) scrapped its way to a 55-40 win over Santa Maria.
At the end of the night, more than $2,600 had been donated to the Shelby Sudbrink Memorial Scholarship fund, which had set up a table at the gym’s entrance. Outside, Paradise Shaved Ice donated 100 percent of its profits to the fund, a total of $350.
As crowds congregated on the court after the game, the sound of a bouncing basketball continued to echo.
It was Kiley.
She said she hopes to one day play on the same court as her sister did. If she does, she will have a number waiting for her.
“Shawn (Koehler) told me that no other girl will wear No. 12 in this gym besides Kiley when she is in high school,” Michael Sudbrink said. “It was special.”
A memorial service has been planned for 1 p.m. Sunday at Oyster Ridge Barn and Event Space in Santa Margarita. Immediately following the service, the family will celebrate Shelby with food, music and stories of her life.
The Shelby Sudbrink Memorial Scholarship will be given every year to a selected Templeton High School senior. Donations can be made at the Templeton High School main office with a debit card or by mailing a check to Templeton High School, attn: Sheila DeLisle, 1200 S. Main St., Templeton, CA 93465, with “Shelby Sudbrink” written in the memo.