Remembering Savannah Day: 'She was the light of our team'

Remembering Savannah Day: 'She was the light of our team'

SIDNEY — A young woman from Sidney is being remembered as a hard-working student-athlete who inspired others around her to do better.

Savannah Day, 18, died about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday when her car hit a train at a signalled crossing south of St. Joseph, just 4 miles northeast of her home.

"She had a big personality," said Jim Acklin, Miss Day's cross-country coach at Danville Area Community College. "That's going to be a big hole to fill."

After a productive four-year stint as a cross-country team member at Unity High School in Tolono, where she helped win IHSA championships in 2015 and 2017, Miss Day signed with Acklin to run for DACC.

She was on her way home from practice when the accident happened.

"We're all still trying to process this," Unity Athletic Director Scott Hamilton said. "It's a sad day for our school, our community and everyone who was fortunate to know Savannah and her smile."

Unity girls' track and field coach Tony Reetz said he knew Miss Day since she was in middle school and called her a "phenomenal" athlete even back then.

"There's a lot to like about her. She was probably, even including all the football guys I've ever coached, the fiercest competitor I've ever coached. She just did not have any quit at all," said Reetz, adding she was a great student academically as well.

Miss Day was one of five female members of DACC's cross-country team who became fast friends in the last two months. Her teammates were reeling Thursday from the suddenness of their loss and lamenting that their academics and practices left little time to "hang out."

"We were pretty close, especially with Savannah because of her character," said DACC sophomore Tishauna Fletcher of Danville. "She was really outgoing. She was the light of our team. She was the heart."

On Wednesday, the team members — who practice five days a week — had an afternoon run at Kickapoo State Park, where, in spite of a challenging hill, they were enjoying being out in nature.

"It was a good practice. She was ahead of everyone," said fellow freshman and team member Christina Oakley of Danville. "We did some trails. We sat at the top of a hill and rested and talked. We were talking about how good of a picture it would have been."

Marissa Uplinger, also a DACC freshman from Danville, said that besides running together, she and Miss Day were in algebra class.

"She helped me on some of my quizzes," Uplinger said of her friend, who was studying physical therapy.

"She came to practice every day happy and full of spirit. It was contagious. Even if we were in a sad mood, she always cheered us up and pushed us to be a better person and run faster. She was our motivation, our glue," Uplinger said. Acklin had the same observation.

"She was typically the first one at practice, always seemed happy and raring to go. She just had this kind of intensity where it'd be a morning run and if it was 7 a.m., she was ready to start," he said.

"She was a great teammate, very supportive. They were learning to love her," Acklin said of his remaining four female cross-country team members.

"Monday, she probably had the best workout I've seen her run. Not only did she have a good workout, she was arguably pulling along her other teammates for one of their best workouts," he said of his distance runner.

"She was also struggling with the fact that her times were not where they were when she was in high school. She wasn't letting that get her down. She was continuing to work hard and making everyone around her better. We were pleased with what we saw and her progress and the progress of the other girls on the team."

Acklin said Miss Day's loss means he will not have enough cross-country members to compete as a team, so the remaining women will score individually. The women said they felt they had a good shot at qualifying for nationals with her.

And they lauded Miss Day's mother, Gloria Day, as their team "soccer mom."

"Her mom would pin our tags on our shoes, help us get ready. She was the one always yelling, 'Go Danville,'" Oakley said.

Reetz said the mother of three daughters was always present for Savannah's races.

"Gloria was at everything. You could hear her. When Savannah was on the track you could hear (Gloria) screaming her name," Reetz said.

Acklin also said he didn't think Miss Day's mother had missed a meet this season, and her father, Charles Day, was one of the more frequent commenters on the team's Facebook page.

Acklin overheard a recent conversation between mother and daughter about a meet next week that Miss Day's mom thought she wouldn't be able to make because of its early start.

"Savannah was upset. Her mom said, 'I know, but it's in the middle of the day, and I have to work.' Her mom and dad were separately supportive of her and her exploits," said Acklin, who added that he was fond of Miss Day's sense of humor.

"She was funny. There was never a dull moment. She was thinking about five different things at once and didn't have much of a filter. It was always entertaining because you didn't quite know what would be said next."

Like the others, Acklin was shaken by the news.

"Less than 24 hours ago, my biggest concern for this team is were we going to be able to win our region and qualify for the national meet. All that seems pretty trivial now," Acklin said.

Miss Day's death is the second involving a recent Unity High grad in less than a year.

Eleven months ago, Carl C.J. Parks, 18, another popular student-athlete from Sidney, was killed when his vehicle hit a culvert on the Philo Slab and rolled over several times. He was also alone at the time of his death.

A member of the football and bass fishing teams, Mr. Parks had graduated from the high school in May 2017, just months before his death on Oct. 26.

"As teachers, parents, coaches, we are always concerned about our kids navigating these country roads," Reetz said of Unity's sprawling rural district. "Inexperienced drivers and bad road qualities — it's a lethal combination that we've grown accustomed to all too well."

Still, the veteran coach and educator said nothing he learned in college prepared him for the loss of a student.

"They teach you how to be a good teacher, but there's nothing to prepare you for these types of things. Every time, it seems like you're dealing with it for first time."

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