Two central West Virginia communities, forever connected by tragedy, will come together in a spirit of competition on Friday night, but ultimately will be as one continuing to heal. The high school football game between Clay County and Roane County will mark the anniversary of the death of Roane County player Alex Miller.

The senior receiver for the Raiders collapsed during a time out at the end of the first quarter between the two teams at Clay County’s home field. He died on the field and the game never resumed. The devastation of the event drew the two old rivals closer together than ever before.

All across the state, high schools joined together with a variety of tributes. Most wore Miller’s number or some symbol on their helmet. Several carried his number 80 in their team’s jersey to the coin toss. Entire student bodies on a designated day wore maroon and white, the colors of Roane County High School.

A year later, the impact of Alex on the program is hard to escape. A monument with his picture and a Bible verse sits at the entrance to the stadium at Roane County High School. Inside the Raider locker room, a sheet of Plexiglas covers his locker, forever enshrined to his memory. There are stickers with his name and number and his picture is on a small refrigerator in the coaches office.

He’s never far from anyone’s mind in Roane County.

“It will be emotional Friday night for sure. We’ll get together and have a moment before the game to honor Alex, but it will definitely be an emotional night,” Burdette said.

The two schools plan to unveil a traveling trophy in Miller’s name which will go to the winner of the game each year, now dubbed the “Route 36 Rivalry”.

“We’ve both got a lot riding on this game obviously, but I think the biggest thing is to honor Alex and his memory,” said Burdette.