Skyline football team to pay tribute to Keith Sanker

Keith Sanker

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline football head coach Heath Gilbert said Wednesday that it’s been a tough week for his team following news of the death of former team member Keith Sanker.

Sanker, 19, a 2016 Skyline graduate who was a standout on the school’s football team the last four years, leading it in tackles last season, died in an ATV crash on Aug. 10.

“It was a trying week, definitely one of the most difficult weeks as a coach in my 18 years,” Gilbert said. “… It’s been difficult, emotionally draining. Our heart, of course goes out to Keith’s family. We’re not the ones that lost their son and their brother, and we feel so awful for their family. We just wish them the best and support them as best we can and we’re trying to honor Keith by playing hard like he always did this football season.”

Gilbert said that the team has handled the news about as well as anyone could expect. He said the school system did a great job making sure there were support counselors there for the players.

Gilbert said that they all met the day after Sanker’s death so they could be together as a team.

“We really didn’t go outside or anything like that. We did some things together,” Gilbert said. “We watched a highlight film of him from last year and watched Keith. The boys were yelling his name out when he was out there making a play. So it was kind of a nice way to do a tribute to him.”

Gilbert said the team will be doing different things throughout the season to honor Sanker, including everyone wearing a sticker with his initials, KS, on their helmets.

Gilbert noted that Sanker’s jersey – No. 33 – will not be worn until Sanker’s younger brother John is old enough to play on the varsity squad, and then he will be allowed to wear it if he wants to.

Gilbert said the players have also decided that the team captains will take his jersey with them for the coin toss before each game.

“I’m really leaving it up to them. I have some ideas (to honor Sanker), but I want them to do it, ‘how do you want to remember Keith?’ They were his teammates.” Gilbert said. “Even though he’s not here this year, those guys were very close and he obviously has a lot of friends.”

Gilbert said that a vigil was held the day after Sanker’s death and there was a large turnout. He said that one of the things he remembers the most about Sanker is his enthusiasm.

“He was our emotional leader,” Gilbert said. “… He had a little saying, ‘oh yeah.’ So if you knew Keith Sanker you knew ‘oh yeah, Keith.’ He was a special kid. He had a great personality, a lot of friends.”

Family night is from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Maddox Funeral Home in Front Royal. His funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Skyline High School gymnasium.

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com