By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ARKADELPHIA, Ark. —
Nick Rountree vividly recalls the first time he met Chris Lane.
Rountree, who excelled at Enid High School and as a member of the Enid Majors American Legion baseball team, was a sophomore member of the baseball team at Redlands Community College in El Reno, a two-year junior college, and was waiting to meet his new roommate for the 2009-10 school year.
“I didn’t know who I was going to be living with other than it was a catcher from Australia,” Rountree said. “I thought, this is going to be interesting.”
Any trepidation he may have had about his new roommate and teammate quickly evaporated when he met the freshman.
“He shows up, and we talked nonstop for three to four hours in our empty apartment,” Rountree recalled. “He was just a great guy.”
The world is finding out, too, what a “great guy” Lane was, but under the most tragic of circumstances, following Lane’s murder Aug. 16 in Duncan.
His death has garnered worldwide headlines after it was learned the 22-year-old East Central University baseball player was shot in the back while jogging, allegedly by three teenagers who were bored and decided to kill somebody to relieve their boredom, according to police and prosecutors.
A 15- and a 16-year-old are being held without bond as suspects in Lane’s death, charged with first-degree murder, and a 17-year-old is being held on $1 million bond as an accessory.
Rountree, 23, currently an assistant baseball coach at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, said the reality of Lane’s death just now is settling in, after learning of his death via the Internet last Friday.
“I happened to get on Facebook and was just checking, seeing what was going on, and saw some things about ‘Rest in Peace Laney,’ and a Facebook page called ‘R.I.P. Christopher Lane,’” Rountree said. “It didn’t register right away it was Chris. I had no idea.”
Rountree struggled to come up with the words.
“It just leaves you speechless. It’s just a senseless thing,” he said, coming to the same frustrating conclusion so many others have. “There was no reason. He was such a good guy. He didn’t deserve that. Nobody does.”
It was not unusual for Australian baseball players to find their way to Redlands in El Reno. Redlands has a long-standing reputation for developing players who go on to four-year colleges. Lane would go on to land a scholarship to East Central. Rountree earned a scholarship to Division I University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
“Our head coach (at Redlands), (Matt) Newgent, has a connection in Australia. We had a long line of Australians who played there,” Rountree said. “Redlands is a good school.”
Lane, a catcher, was remembered by his former teammate as a hard-nosed player.
“He competed, that’s the best way to describe him as a player,” Rountree said. “He always looked for ways to get better and worked hard.”
But it went deeper than that.
“He was a role model for people,” Rountree said. “He was how a man should be, and I’m not just saying that because of the circumstances.”
Lane met his girlfriend, Sarah Harper, at Redlands. She was a golfer.
“It was about two weeks into the school year,” Rountree said. “We were all getting together one night and they met. You could tell there was something special from then on out. They were inseparable. She was an extraordinary person. He could not have found anybody better.”
Lane, Harper and Rountree wound up sharing an apartment.
Lane and Harper continued to date after he left Redlands. It was while visiting Harper in Duncan that Lane was shot and killed. Her emotional placement of a cross at the site where he fell after being shot has become a lasting impression.
“I loved him so much,” she tearfully told the press.
Rountree recalled Lane as the life of the party, who also enjoyed debating people.
“He was the go-to guy on Friday and Saturday night,” Rountree fondly recalled. “And he loved a good argument, and that was frustrating because he was good at it.”
As it happens, once Rountree left Redlands and made his way to UALR, he and Lane began to lose touch.
“Once my season rolled around for my junior year, I started to lose touch with him,” he said. “Unfortunately, that was the last time we spoke. You get caught up with your own agendas, and you forget to keep in contact.”
Lane’s death has touched many in Oklahoma, but that doesn’t surprise Rountree.
“Oklahoma towns and baseball communities are so tightly wound, it (his murder) hurts everybody,” he said.
Rountree said more than $100,000 has been raised to help with burial costs, and for Harper to go to Australia to be with Lane’s family.
“It shows the love and impact he had on so many people,” Rountree said. “Everybody he met, everybody he knew, he made an impact on them. But even people who never met him are donating money to the fund.”
Rountree said Lane enjoyed life in the United States.
“He loved America,” he said. “He loved playing baseball, and America gave him that opportunity.
“Everybody he knew just loved him. He made you a better person. It’s heartbreaking, just heartbreaking.”