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Gone too soon

September 6, 2011
By MIKE MATHISON - Sports editor (mmathison@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

I watched both of my grandmothers do it and I knew at the time it was something I would never want to do as a parent, even though I wasn't a parent at the time.

I watched one grandmother bury three of her children and the other bury two.

Now, the children were all adults at the time - two of them being my parents - but there is no way that makes it any less difficult.

I wrote in this column almost a year ago how another family - this one I know - had to bury their teenage son after a motorcycle accident.

I know of families who went through miscarriages and others who had to give birth to their stillborn child.

Now, the Cameron family is going through the terrible ordeal - burying a 15-year-old.

Jimmy Cameron was a sophomore on the Harrison Central football team.

He wore No. 68, a number that was carried onto the field Saturday afternoon in the game against Weir High.

After falling into a coma recently, Cameron passed away Sunday afternoon.

Justin Kropka has seen a lot of things during his tenure at Harrison Central and this is one he would have gladly skipped.

"The kids are trying to deal with it. The coaches are trying to deal with it and the community is trying to deal with it the best they can," said Kropka.

"Jimmy was just a good kid. He was always happy. He was a big teddy bear kid. He liked to joke around. He liked trucker hats and he was into fishing and hunting.

"He was just a good-hearted kid - just enjoyable to be around."

Kropka said Cameron told him that he was not feeling right.

"He told me it wasn't a football thing, it was something weird," said the coach.

Two weeks ago Cameron was headed to see the doctor and talked with Kropka.

"He told me that if the doctor released him, he would be at practice," he said. "That was the extent of our conversation.

"Looking back, I wish that conversation was a little longer."

Less than a week later, Kropka received a phone call before the season opener against Claymont and was told that Cameron was on life support, on a ventilator.

Kropka later went to see Cameron in the hospital.

"That was hard," the coach admitted.

"I just feel so helpless. This is just an all-time sadness. This whole thing is sad. All the kids are looking to me for answers and I don't have them.

"I can't ever imagine what the family is going through. I can't begin to fathom that kind of pain. There is nothing I can say to make anything better for anybody."

Yet, he must still find words for the football team.

The reality of the situation is that life goes on and the Huskies have a football game Friday night at Caldwell.

"When we get back to school tomorrow, their worlds are going to be spinning and we all will need the normalcy of football," said Kropka. "That is the regiment of what we do.

"I met with the team today and Jimmy's best friend was sitting there and I know he's hurting really badly, but I told him 'if you miss the down man in the gap Friday night I'm going to get all over you.'

"I know how that may sound. But, I said it in a way so that the whole team understands what we have to do as a team.

"Football is our therapy. I told them, 'the way you are to Jimmy is how you are day-to-day. That's how you need to honor him.' We need to honor Jimmy by our day-to-day lives, how we live and how we approach every day."

Kropka is honest. He tells it the way it is.

He and I have had many conversations of the years about just about everything and his honesty is a reason kids play hard for him. It's a reason he is the winningest coach in school history, owning 33 of the school's 42 wins. It's a reason his record is above .500 at 33-29.

"We lost our quarterback to an injury and I told the kids that they were going to go through a lot worse things than losing a quarterback to injury," he said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think something like this would happen.

"I tell our kids the reason why I get on them when they miss a weightlifting session or are late to something that not only are we trying to make them better football players, better members of society, but we're trying to make them better men.

"There is nothing I can say to them that could possibly justify this happening to the Cameron family. The best thing I can tell them is that it's a part of life."

And, life goes on.

"That's how it is," said Kropka. "It's a harsh reality, but we have a football game to play Friday night. We're lucky. We have an outlet, a relief. Jimmy's family does not have a relief.

"We are together for one common goal, one singular focus for three hours a day as a football team. I told them 'that the only thing in life that's going to be normal in your life for the next couple of weeks is football.'

"That's my opinion."

And, the coach is right.

You can help the Cameron family by simply praying for them and doing to right now.

I cannot comprehend a worse thing for a parent and pray I never will.

I also cannot understand how people go through this without prayer and a trust, belief and faith in God.

The viewing will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Borkoski Funeral Home in Cadiz. The services will be held at the same place at 10 a.m. Thursday with Rev. Jim Monogioudis officiating.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at mmathison@heraldstaronline.com)

 
 

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