Community of Thayer, Mo. remembers high school football coach who suddenly dies

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THAYER, Mo. -- On Tuesday's students in the Thayer schools are encouraged to wear ties, a tradition started by assistant high school football coach and jr. high social studies teacher Bryan Tate.

"It was dress up a little bit, make yourself a little more presentable," explained Bryan's father, George, about why his son started Tie Tuesday. "Just teach some manners and morals to these kids."

But on this Tuesday the man who started that tradition was not around as the 26-year-old Tate, a married man and one of four brothers, died over the weekend while he was riding in the backseat of the family car on the way to watch one of his brothers play football in Quincy, Illinois.

His mom, dad, and younger brother were in the car at the time.

"We looked back and he just had a blank stare on his face," George said. "My wife is a nurse and she yelled at me to stop. By the time we got to the hospital he was gone but they're speculating that is was some sort of cardiac event. It's the most helpless feeling that I've ever experienced in my life just to stand and watch the light go out."

Tate played high school football at Thayer under long-time coach Billy Webber and was part of two state runner-up teams in 2007-08 before joining Webber's staff three years ago.

"You watched him mature into a young man and grow as a coach. It's just a tough situation," Webber said.

"He was a gentle giant," added Thayer high school principal Marc Pitts. "There's a wall (in the school hallway) where kids can write things to him and they all love him."

Among the heartwrenching thoughts expressed on that board by students were "You pulled me up when I was down and you will always be in my heart" and "I could talk to you about anything. You were such an amazing friend."

"I don't think he knew how many hearts he'd touched along the way," George said.

There's no doubt that this Tie Tuesday took on a new meaning for this community with broken hearts.

"I've got so many hugs today from these kids," George said in expressing that he appreciated the students wearing ties to pay tribute his son.

Although he died so young, Tate, who also started the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes, leaves behind a great legacy.

"Everything he set out to do, although he was just 26 years-old, I think he did it," George said. "Make good decisions in your life because you never know who's hero you are. I didn't get it. But I do now."

Visitation is set for Thursday at the Carter Funeral Home from 5-8 p.m.

The funeral is Saturday at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Thayer.

On Friday several schools who are normally Thayer's rivals will be wearing the Bobcats green colors to pay tribute to coach Tate.