LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) – For 22 seconds, none of the 104 players thought about football.
The high school students’ thoughts and prayers were elsewhere – with Abraham Romero in the intensive care unit at El Paso Children’s Hospital as a solemn stillness crept over the hundreds of fans at the Field of Dreams watching Organ Mountain’s game against Mayfield High.
The only sound came from the flapping of a white flag with “#ABESTRONG” and the number 22, his jersey number, inscribed underneath an Organ Mountain High School logo.
The Organ Mountain and Mayfield players kneeled at midfield after it was announced that the first cross-city rivalry game of the season would be dedicated to Romero, the Organ Mountain senior linebacker who has remained in a medically induced coma since suddenly collapsing between plays during the team’s game against Deming. They remained still during the silence – 22 seconds long for No. 22.
Romero wasn’t in attendance to watch the Knights 28-0 win over the Trojans (their first win over Mayfield since 2017), but his presence was undeniable, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.
Fans wore bright green ribbons with the number “22” on their lapels. Players wore helmet decals with the initials “A.R.” The home stands were covered in signs offering support for the 17-year-old: “STRONG FOR 22;” “FIGHT FOR ABE;” “LET’S FIGHT ON #22.”
Booster club parents patrolled the stands holding collection jars with Romero’s photo while high school students collected for the 50/50 raffle, the proceeds of which both booster clubs pledged to donate to Romero and his family.
“I got choked up talking to the officials before the game. We still had Abe be a captain tonight. We just wrote down his number,” head coach Steve Castille said. “Not for one second was it off our minds. It’s a huge deal. (Football) both has to be on the back burner a little bit, but the game’s still on the schedule.”
Romero’s mother, Elizabeth Alonzo, watched Organ Mountain’s most inspired performance of the season on her iPad propped on his hospital bed while she clasped her hand around his. She still wanted him to be able to listen to the broadcaster’s call of the Knights tied 0-0 at halftime, then jump out to a 14-0 lead in the third quarter, then drive in the dagger in the fourth quarter even if he wasn’t conscious. He had never missed a football game before.
“(I’m) viewing the game right next to my Knight as if I was watching him on the field,” Alonzo said. “Always together.”
Romero had remained unconscious for six days as of Thursday, and Alonzo has asked for as many prayers as possible as her son continues to battle. But the community sent a reminder Thursday night that the family isn’t alone.
Mayfield’s cheerleading squad donated $260 to the Romero family, bolstering the more than $3,000 the city’s four major high schools have raised already. Mayfield raised an additional $1,389 in its 50/50 raffle to donate to the family, which also included the profits from its last home game, and Organ Mountain contributed $624 from its 50/50 raffle. Alonzo said she has personally received more than $300 donated directly to her already.
Cobre and Silver City High Schools have also said they will accept donations during their game Friday night, and Las Cruces High, Centennial, Mayfield and Organ Mountain High Schools will collectively host a car wash at Three Crosses Regional Hospital in Las Cruces Sunday, Sept. 4.
“I feel unbelievably blessed that the community has united for my son and he is so loved,” Alonzo said. “I would trade the world to have my son on the field tonight with the rest of his brothers.”
Alonzo remembered her family isn’t alone in the fight.
And heard it too.
As the clock wound down and the two teams trudged toward midfield for the postgame handshake, Organ Mountain’s bleachers broke out chanting, “Twenty-two! Twenty-two!” The band banged its bass drum 22 times.
The scorekeeper stopped the clock at 22 seconds. Players carried a flag with Romero’s number as they huddled on the field after the game and proclaimed a new era of Knight football. They held a 22-second prayer after the game. Several players remained kneeled for longer as they held back tears.
This one was for Abe.
“It’s a tough thing to lose a brother like that in the fashion that it happened,” Castille said. ”...It’s an amazing thing for the community when you get into that stuff. I don’t know if ‘romantic’ is the word I’m going to use, but it brings this whole community together.”