ALBANY, NY—As their deadline drew near and they realized they still lacked an event significant enough to inspire a moving yearbook dedication, the staff of Albany High School's The Annual decided to take action by brutally sacrificing star basketball forward and homecoming king Ryan Edwards last weekend, senior class officials reported Monday.
"Ryan truly embodied the best of Albany High, and he'll be sorely missed," said a tearful Julie Norstrand, senior editor of The Annual. "It's going to be an amazing yearbook."
Edwards, 18, died in the early hours of Saturday morning after his 2002 Chrysler Pacifica plummeted nearly 30 feet into a ravine five miles north of Albany. The Annual staff, which threw a post-game party Edwards attended that same night, blamed the accident on a combination of acute intoxication, malicious drugging, and vehicle pushing.
"He went out on top, at the prime of life and eternally young in people's memories," Norstrand said of Edwards, who scored 20 points in his final basketball game Friday. "People will never forget how full of life and energy Ryan was, especially not those of us who saw him overcome his Rohypnol daze and bang desperately on the windshield as his car went over the edge. We'll miss you, Ry."
Norstrand said the decision to martyr Edwards was made only as a last resort following a school year void of varsity sports team bus crashes, drunk-driving accidents, the deaths of beloved teachers, or any other rich yearbook dedication material.
"Even Brett [Oster], our ace in the hole, pulled through," added layout and design artist Andy Ziegler, referring to the sophomore's full recovery from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Edwards' death provides the first powerful Annual tribute since a hunting accident claimed the life of junior Justin Richenberg in 2003.
"In 2005, we dedicated the yearbook to our debate team that went to state, but then they got shut out in the quarterfinals," Ziegler said of the three-year drought of moving tributes. "Last year's dedication was in memory of [cafeteria worker] Mrs. [Joyce] Davis, but she was, like, 90 years old, so no one really cared that much."
Weeks before the tragedy shook the small upstate New York community, the yearbook staff was already hard at work assembling a tribute they felt would properly honor Edwards' memory.
"Putting together this dedication wasn't an easy task," photo editor Mindy Knepshield said. "How do you select the pictures that capture someone's life? Luckily, we had taken a few dozen extra portraits when we had Ryan in the office a couple of weeks ago for the superlatives, so we had a lot to choose from."
Edwards had been voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by his classmates, and was posthumously awarded "Nicest Eyes."
Students at Albany High expressed shock and disbelief at Edwards' untimely death, as well as admiration for The Annual's impressive dedication: a somber two-page, full-color photo collage bordered by personal messages the yearbook committee had gathered from Ryan's friends, coaches, and teachers in the month leading up to the tragedy.
Albany High principal Arthur Lathan announced that a tree would be planted on school grounds in Edwards' memory during the June commencement ceremonies.
"We're all trying to make sense of this tragedy and begin the healing process," Lathan said. "It's heartbreaking. None of us—outside of the yearbook staff, of course—ever saw this coming."