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Former Owl Runners and Newtown Natives Reflect on Tragedy

January 11, 2013
Kevin Hoyt (left) and Eric MacKnight
Kevin Hoyt (left) and Eric MacKnight

Eric MacKnight and Kevin Hoyt grew up running around their hometown of Newtown, Conn. Standout runners at Newtown High, the same school that produced 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner, the pair went on to excel on the trails and track at Keene State College.

Literally following in each other’s footsteps at KSC, each took turns as the leader of the pack for the Owl cross country team with MacKnight being named Little East Conference runner of the year in 2010 and Hoyt receiving the honor the next season.

While they have gone their separate ways since graduating, they recently took time to reflect on the tragedy that took place in their hometown at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Although they no longer live in Newtown, the tragedy hit home. “I was shocked,” said MacKnight, a 2011 KSC grad now working as a safety consultant for the Colden Corp. in Clifton Park N.Y. “It was unbelievable. I didn’t want to believe it. I grew up there. It was a good town with great people - a great place to grow up.”

Now living near the University of Connecticut, Hoyt, a 2012 KSC grad, said he was off from work that day of the shooting and heard about it on Facebook. “I tried to get more information on television, but after a while I had to stop watching,” he said.

MacKnight and Hoyt didn’t attend Sandy Hook, going instead crosstown to the Head O’Meadow School, one of four elementary schools in Newtown. “It’s a pretty big town but it was still in our town,” said MacKnight. “I had a bunch of friends who went to Sandy Hook.”

Both have family still living in the area. “My parents still live there and they went to all the memorial services,” said MacKnight. “My mother is a loving person, but she raised four kids in Newtown and to have this happen is just a rude awakening. You never expect something like this to happen in your town.”

My mom (Tina) works in the middle school, so it was very tough for her,” said Hoyt. “She knew many of the teachers. I just tried to support her any way I could.”

MacKnight said the news of the shooting also took its toll on his girlfriend, Kimber Stannard, a former member of the Owl track team now working as a special education instructor at the Emerson Elementary School in Fitzwilliam, N.H. “It almost hit her harder than me,” said MacKnight. “I tried to stay strong because I knew she was going to be broken up about it.”

MacKnight and Hoyt returned to Newtown for Christmas. “My mom told us about the memorial and the thousands of Teddy Bears that were sent from all over the world,” said MacKnight. “It was definitely a different Christmas than it’s been in the past.”

I know people will always think about the shooting when they think about Newtown” said Hoyt. “But I’ve been back there a couple of times since it happened and it’s really nice to see how the tragedy has brought everyone together.”