OPINA'S OPINION: One Week Later, Jesse Dannels' Memory Still Fre - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

OPINA'S OPINION: One Week Later, Jesse Dannels' Memory Still Fresh in our Hearts

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: This Blog is meant to compliment another blog regarding Jesse Dannels. Click Here to read about the Chinook Sugarbeeters performance at State Wrestling)

At the reception for Jesse Dannels' memorial service, his mom Ruth told me "Jesse James Dannels was, is and will always be a bright and shining star in our community, in our life. We have an empty hole. All we can fill it with now all these memories people give us.”

I wanted to share some of my best memories with Jesse so people get a sense of who he was. I got to know Jesse through Football season and it was a privilege to cover him.


I will never forget my last moment speaking with Chinook Senior Jesse Dannels.

I made the 2.5 hour trip from Great Falls to Chinook to cover the class B/C Wrestling Northern Divisional Wrestling tournament.

After I was done recording enough wrestling matches with my camera (for all the schools in our viewing area), I had to bounce to Havre High and cover the Eastern A divisional tournament.

But someone told me Jesse’s match was coming up next. It was the divisional semifinal match at 182 lbs. I decided to stick around and watch.

I got my camera and recorded a little bit of his match, but then I decided to put the camera down. I wanted to watch his match as a person—through my own eyes instead of through the eyes of a camera lens. I had gotten to know Jesse very well since the start of Football season and wanted to enjoy watching him compete.

Jesse battled hard. At one point he was trailing but he came back to earn a 3rd period pin and a berth in the 182 lbs Semifinal, qualifying him for the State Wrestling Tournament.

As I was on my way out, I went up to him and told him “that was one hell of a match.” He gutted out that win. Jesse responded with something along the lines of, “that kid was really good.” I shook his hand and said “good luck,” referring to both the divisional finals and the State Tournament that took place the following weekend.

Little did I know “good luck,” would be my final words to him.

One day later I get the call from a parent, informing me that Jesse Dannels was involved in a fatal car crash. I cried on the spot. I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. I was in disbelief. I had just met his mom for the first time after talking to Jesse at Divisionals and I told her how much I’ve enjoyed covering her son.

Jesse of all people? Why him?

Chinook had just suffered a tragedy two years ago when beloved girls basketball head coach Charlie Robinson passed away. It pained me to know that this community suffered another heartbreak.

18-year-olds like Jesse aren’t supposed to be buried. They’re supposed to compete at the State Wrestling tournament before graduating and spending the next 4-5 years at one of the best colleges in the country.

I was lucky enough to have a sit-down chat with Jesse at the last Chinook Basketball game I covered, which was one week prior to the B/C Northern Divisional Wrestling Tournament.

First of all, taught me how to dab. We were dabbing in the school cafeteria/wrestling room. Who knew I would learn to dab from an 18-year-old?

Afterwards he told me his whole plan for college. He was going to go the University of Arizona and try out for the Football team as a punter. I believed in him.

At halftime of the basketball game, I got video of Jesse and some of the other wrestlers attempting the “pop-a-shot” game, where people pay dollar to take shots on the court. It’s like the new way small schools have been raising money.

Jesse was so confident he was going to make a shot. He wanted me to get it on camera. I came over to film it. He missed it. Badly. But I told him I would still put the miss on TV. He laughed before giving me his permission.

Honestly, it still hasn’t hit me that Jesse is no longer with us. I still feel like I’ll see him again next time in Chinook.

Never would I have guessed that 4 days after my last conversation with him at Divisionals, I would be covering his funeral.

The last thing I wanted to do was put on my “News Hat” and go into “reporter mode.” But I knew that if I wanted to honor Jesse in the best way I possibly could, I’d have to be there with my camera and news equipment. Jesse loved it when KFBB came to Chinook. It would be an honor to do it one more time for him.

During Jesse’s service, Football head coach Scott Freide gave a speech about Jesse. He mentioned how Jesse had this “Derek Opina Radar,” referring to the fact that Jesse always knew when I was around or when I arrived.

I don’t know what took me so long to put two and two together, but that was so true!

Northeastern Montana was the biggest example of the “Derek Opina Radar.”

I traveled to Sidney to cover Chinook’s semifinal football game against Fairview back in November. I was supposed to do a LIVE shot for the Friday Night Frenzy outside of the Football team’s hotel.

As soon as I walked into the lobby of the hotel, I hear from my left, “Opina’s Here! Opina’s Here!”

Jesse and the team were in a completely separate room, sealed off, but somehow he knew I had arrived. Even more odd, somehow I HEARD him.

The last Basketball game I was at in Chinook: As soon as I walked into the Gym, I hear Jesse say, “Opina’s Here! Opina’s Here!” He was all the way across on the other side of the gym. Somehow I HEARD him.

When I went to Choteau to cover the Wrestling tournament in January: The first thing I hear when I walk into the gym was “OH-PEEN-NUH!” Jesse was yelling my name from atop the stands. Somehow I HEARD him.

It breaks my heart to know that I will never hear him say “Opina’s Here!” ever again.

“Jesse’s Legacy is Love.”

His brother Ryan Reid said it best.

Jesse was a friend, brother, son, teammate and student. But no matter what, he always treated you like he had known you for years. Almost like a member of his own family.

Jesse loved to love people. He was one of the kindest souls I have ever been fortunate to meet.

Jesse’s love expanded well beyond the walls of Chinook, as evidenced by the massive amount of people that attended his service. People from all over the state came to pay their respects, including Havre, Harlem, Malta, Turner, C-J-I, Conrad and Power just to name a few. His classmates who graduated traveled all the way back to Chinook to say goodbye.

Jesse touched the lives of so many. He may not be around anymore, but we can still honor his memory. We can represent the fact that we knew him by applying his example to our daily lives.

Jesse loved people. Jesse enjoyed small moments. Jesse made people feel good.

Let’s all try to be more like Jesse. Let’s love people the way Jesse loved people. Let’s enjoy moments with our loved ones the way Jesse did. Let’s treat others with respect, and go out of our way to make them feel appreciated.

That way, we can live our lives knowing that Jesse made us better people just by knowing him.

The world needs more people like Jesse Dannels. So let’s make it a better place by living in his example.

Rest in peace Jesse James Dannels. I will never forget you.

Click here to see my LIVE shot in Sidney, MT where Jesse Photobomed me on LIVE TV.

Click here to see the tribute video that Brenna Greene and I put together. We pulled our station resources for this project. The video played during Jesse’s service.

Click here to see video of Jesse’s last win in his wrestling career. It was a 3rd period pin during Divisionals at Chinook.

Click here for one of my favorite examples of Jesse’s “Derek Opina Radar.”

Click here to watch Jesse’s last interview on TV.

Click here to see KFBB’s coverage of Jesse’s Funeral Service.

Comments? Questions? Concerns? Follow me on twitter: @DerekOpinaKFBB

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