CLEVELAND -- A week ago, Mike Mussina turned his baseball cap over and, with a black felt pen, wrote on the inside the names of the 16 members of the Montoursville High (Pa.) French Club killed when TWA Flight 800 exploded off the coast of Long Island last month.
Mussina grew up in Montoursville, a town of about 5,000, graduated from its high school, coaches football and basketball there in Mussina the off-season and plans to live in the town the rest of his life.
He coached one of the young men killed, Rance Hettler. "His funeral is today," Mussina said quietly yesterday, sitting in front of his locker in the visitors clubhouse at Jacobs Field.
Mussina's girlfriend works with the mother of one of the women who died. The pitcher knew the French teacher who was killed, along with her husband, and a secretary, Judy Rupert, who worked at Montoursville High when Mussina was a student there.
"I saw her every day during the basketball season," Mussina said.
He wants to do something, to help in some way. But he isn't sure what he can do; how he can help or if he can help. And he's sure that others in Montoursville feel the same way: Hurt, and helpless.
He is doing this, then, wearing the names of the students on his cap. "It's my way of being there," Mussina said, "even when I can't be. It's a way to keep those people, even if I never met them, remembered."
Amanda Karchner, another of the victims, worked at the sub shop he frequents. "The odds of me knowing [those on the plane] are great, because it's a small town," Mussina said. "You might know half the people yourself. Maybe you coached them or maybe one was a cheerleader, or you went to school with an older brother. Everybody in Montoursville is related, somehow, through friends."
Mussina calls home to his parents every couple of days now, and he hears the news. The bodies of 17 of the 21 who were killed have been identified, he said. A school official Mussina knows has been to every funeral. There have been too many of them.
During the winter, a young student was killed after slipping under a bus. There was a fatal car crash. Another student killed himself, Mussina said. "Nineteen kids dead in a town the size of Montoursville," he said. "That can't happen. That won't happen over 50 years.
"The toughest thing is when you start putting faces and personalities with the name. It's not just a name on a list -- you start remembering how you associated with that person."
Students will return to Montoursville High at the end of this month, and Mussina will go back to coaching once the Orioles' season is over. "I'm sure it's going to be tough," he said. "The school is going to be different."
Last week, ESPN did a story on the Montoursville Little League team and, Mussina said, it was like watching the local news, because everything was so familiar.
"I thought how it was nice they were doing something on [the kids]," Mussina said. "But then you realize you're watching ESPN and CNN, and the reason why the networks are there is because those people aren't here anymore."
Those people, whose names are written inside Mussina's baseball cap.
Pub Date: 8/03/96