Nashua South’s Downing plays on after grandfather’s heart attack

Staff photo by TOM KING Nashua South speedy receiver Derek Downing persevered on the field last Friday night for the Panthers after his grandfather had suffered a heart attack in the stands.

NASHUA – Derek Downing was standing on the field and saw all the commotion in the stands last Friday night at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, and like many, was wondering what the heck was going on.

“It was right after the National Anthem, and I heard our trainer, Jerry (Holland) say ‘We need someone to call 911’,” the speedy South senior receiver said.

Someone was having a heart attack in the stands. Downing, a short time later, found out it was his grandfather, Terry Goode.

“I didn’t know who it was, and I was trying to make sure it wasn’t him, because he has heart problems,” Downing said. “And someone told me it wasn’t. But I found out (it was Goode) as soon as they drove him off the field (by ambulance).”

Stunned, Downing had a decision to make: Stay as the game, stopped after one play, resumed or go to Derry’s Parkland Medical Center with his parents, who arrived at Pinkerton just in time to see Goode being tended to.

Just imagine.

“I had a feeling, the whole time, even when they said it wasn’t him,” Downing said. “It was rough. I kind of lost it. Coach Knight was nice, he told me whatever decision I made it was going to be my decision. I knew my family was going to be with him so I felt like if I left, I really couldn’t help him there except for moral support. I feel that benefitting my team was a decent decision at the time.”

Goode is, according to Downing, still in intensive care after he was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston but the prognosis, he said, is good.

But this was scary,even for the trained personnel. “I’ve been doing this for 28 years, and I’ve seen a lot of things, but I haven’t seen that,” Holland said. “The two real heroes of that day were my wife Michelle and Laura Forgione (a nurse and former Nashua athlete). Between Michelle and her, they really saved (him with CPR).”

Holland got the referee to stop the game and talked to other medical personnel there. In fact, Holland said, one of his patients called 911.

Holland told Knight and Downing all the information he had, so the senior could make his decision.

“I agree (with Downing’s decision to play),” Knight said. “It’s hard. I guess the comforting thing to know is he was told when he left he was breathing. I think if things had gone a different way, things would have been different.”

What makes the details even more incredible is Downing went out and caught five passes for 49 yards, and also played on defense, helping his team even in a 28-6 loss. He wanted to do well for his grandfather.

“Especially the first touch, that’s what I thought,” Downing said. “My grandmother told me he was really excited to be at the game. Hopefully, when he gets better I can tell him it was for him.”

Knight said you see stories of athletes who play incredibly hard in the wake of tragedy, but this was special.

“I guess unless you’re in that position, you can’t imagine how hard it is,” he said. “Sports is a great outlet for stress anyway. Sometimes it’s better to do that, I think, but it’s hard to imagine being in that position.”

Somehow, Downing, who wants to play the game he’s loved since the fourth grade in college, was able to keep his focus on the field last Friday.

“I knew that if I just kept thinking about it, it was going to affect me mentally and physically,” he said. “So I figured if I just stayed positive, if I just pray, if I just do my thing on the field, hopefully everything will work out better.”

“My main thing is if I’m positive with myself, hopefully I’ll be positive around other people and they won’t have to worry about me, my teammates keep doing their thing. I’ll be OK as long as they are.”

After the game, Downing spoke with his father and was told his grandfather was breathing and in good hands.

Knight, meanwhile, loves Downing’s work ethic. “He’s one of those kids you call a gamer, he just loves to play,” he said. “I could tell him ‘You’re starting at inside linebacker this week’, and he’d say, ‘OK, what do you want me to do.’ Or, ‘You’re starting at nose’. He just loves to play.”

Downing’s not sure what college he’ll go to next year, once he chooses a major, but he’s thinking he can play at the Division II or Division III level. “Anything,” he said. “I love being able to put my speed into what I love doing the most. I love watching football, I love playing football.”

Hopefully, his grandfather will be able to see him play at that level.

“I can’t wait,” Downing said. “He’s all about it. I keep saying it’s bad timing. But if he wasn’t around (the medical personnel) and everyone else, it wouldn’t have been good.

“Everyone has been really nice at the school, asking if there’s anything I need. He’s slowly getting better, but he’s still not in the clear. I’m just going to keep checking and doing my thing.”

“This,” Holland said, “is real life.”