By Austin Meek

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

PORTLAND — I took a lap around the concourse Monday night as time ran out on the Portland Trail Blazers’ season.

It was a somber procession as fans left the Moda Center, absorbing a Golden State sweep and a 119-117 overtime loss that ended with Damiam Lillard’s missed 3-pointer at the buzzer.

A dad walked out with his son and stopped to talk to a local TV reporter. The kid was maybe 8 or 9 years old, a Blazer pinwheel painted on his cheek, his upper lip trembling. The son said a few words and started crying, so the dad took the microphone and finished the interview.

If you could have gotten the bird’s-eye view from outside, you would have seen the arena emptying out, cars snaking out of the parking garages and onto the interstate, hurt and disappointment mingling with gratitude as fans said goodbye a magical playoff run.

You know what that is? That’s normalcy.

Amid the disappointment of a playoff sweep against the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, Portland got a reminder of how fortunate we are to watch these games and treat them as though they matter. If not for one singular act of heroism, the night would have been filled with an entirely different set of emotions.

Pregame festivities halted for a moment of silence. Fans wearing ribbons, carrying signs that said “ParkroseStrong.” The awful rituals that have become all too familiar in American culture.

That could have been Monday’s backdrop. Instead, fans at the Moda Center rose to their feet and roared for Keanon Lowe, the former University of Oregon football player who single-handedly disarmed a would-be school shooter.

Lowe’s story has gone national now. Friday morning he was a high school football coach and security guard at Parkrose High School in northeast Portland, responding to what sounded like a routine situation. Sunday he was on “Good Morning America.” Monday he was at the Moda Center, a guest of the Trail Blazers, explaining those frantic few seconds that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

“I think the universe works in amazing ways,” Lowe said. “I’ve gone through stuff in my life that prepared me for that moment. I’m lucky and I’m happy that I was in that classroom for those kids and I was able to prevent that tragedy.”

As a security officer, Lowe estimated he gets 30 or 40 calls each day to deal with various situations, most of which are benign. He did not expect anything different when he was summoned to remove a student from the Parkrose High Fine Arts Building on Friday.

When Lowe entered the classroom, the student was not there. Less than a minute later, Lowe said, the door opened and the student was standing 3 feet away with a shotgun.

“Obviously that student didn’t know I was right there when he was going to open the door,” Lowe said. “I was within arm’s length of him. It happened fast, and I was able to get to him.”

Football players learn to trust their instincts, read their keys, react in a split second. Lowe showed those abilities as a wide receiver at Oregon, becoming one of the Ducks’ steadiest players and a key part of their run to the College Football Playoff in 2014.

Lowe did the same thing when the gunman appeared in the doorway. He looked in the kid’s eyes, saw the gun in his hands and immediately wrestled him to the ground, gripping the barrel with both hands as terrified students rushed out of the classroom.

“This is a story that usually ends in tragedy,” Lowe said. “From God’s will, this ended up well.”

Before the police arrived, Lowe spent a moment alone with the student he tackled. He saw the gravity of the situation sinking in, a scared young man realizing what he nearly did.

In that moment, Lowe realized who he was there to save. It was not just the kids in the classroom.

“I felt compassion for the kid, to be honest,” Lowe said. “I had a real-life conversation. I just wanted to let him know that I was there for him.

“I told him I was there to save him.”

Lowe took the job at Parkrose, in his hometown, after spending two years as an analyst for his former coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly, in the NFL. The school’s football team was on a 23-game losing streak. Many of the students come from tough backgrounds. It was fertile ground for someone who wanted to make a difference.

People become high school educators because they want to save lives, but no one imagines doing it like this.

“I wouldn’t have signed up to coach Parkrose football or signed up to be a security guard at Parkrose if I didn’t love those kids,” Lowe said.

We use the word “hero” loosely in sports, but Lowe deserves the label in a way few athletes ever will. What he did was brave, selfless and genuine.

Now it is on the rest of us to make sure others don’t have to make that choice.

Our society cannot keep asking people like Keanon Lowe to stand in the path of a shooter’s bullet. While we celebrate his bravery, let’s also think about the tragedy he prevented, one that plays out far too often in America’s classrooms and hallways.

It is often said that the aftermath of a school shooting is the wrong time to talk about gun control. Well, how about now? How about before someone like Keanon Lowe has to sacrifice his life in the line of duty?

Just days after the most harrowing experience of his life, it would be unfair to ask Lowe to solve one of society’s thorniest issues. In fact, no one would blame him for walking away from high school education altogether — going back to the NFL, coaching college football, leaving behind the traumatic memories.

Lowe is not doing that. He was back at school Monday, the same place he will be tomorrow and the day after.

“I’m just me,” Lowe said. “I don’t have the answers. I’m excited for the work in the future that I can do for this subject, but there’s not an easy fix.”

Let’s all give him a hand.

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