Three weeks, three communities, three high school football player deaths

Warren Hills Regional High School quarterback Evan Murray (Photo: Larry Murphy, via AP)

Warren Hills Regional High School quarterback Evan Murray (Photo: Larry Murphy, via AP)

On the same day that the high school football community in New Jersey was mourning the death of Warren Hills Regional quarterback Evan Murray, Bartlesville (Okla.) was celebrating the life of Ben Hamm.

The funeral for Hamm, 16, was held Saturday morning. Hamm, a junior from Bartlesville’s Wesleyan Christian School, died Sept. 19 from injuries he suffered in game eight days earlier.

The death of Murray and Hamm follow the death of Franklin Parrish (Winnsboro, La.) player Tyrell Cameron in a Sept. 4 game in Louisiana. Late Friday night, Franklin Parish beat Richwood in overtime, its first victory since Cameron’s death.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, five high school players died last season of causes directly related to football such as head and spine injuries. Seven more high school players died from indirect causes such as heatstroke.

“This put a lot of things in perspective,” Franklin Parish coach Barry Sebren told USA TODAY High School Sports on Sunday. “You have to try to learn from those moments and take the opportunity to recognize that this thing it’s serious. Some things you thought were serious before are not really. These situations help you understand what’s important and what’s not important.”

With the benefit of a few weeks, Sebren said he would urge his fellow coaches in similar situations to “lean on your team, lean on your family, lean on each other, lean on the community and rally around one one another. That’s the only way you’re going to make it through.

“The amazing thing I saw was people of all races, all religions and all diverse backgrounds all rallied around our team and our players,” he said. “That was the thing I that really really helped us.”

In Oklahoma, Hamm scored a touchdown in a Sept. 11 game but was hit hard on the next play. He was taken to an area hospital where he underwent surgery and was kept in a medically induced coma to lower the pressure in his head.  His condition deteriorated in the days that followed and he passed away because of the lack of oxygen in his blood, according to his father, Steve.

On Facebook on Sept. 19, Steve wrote: “I am saddened to let you know that the world has lost a spiritual warrior! He has been gathered to his people and we will see him again soon on the other side. Misti and I have been humbled and in awe of the amount of response Ben has received in prayers. Please understand how much comfort that has been to us.”

On Friday night, in the first game since Hamm’s death — Wesleyan Christian honored Hamm by marking the 28-yard line with his number. Fans released balloons before the game and held a 28-second moment of silence. A metallic artwork carved into a jersey was unveiled and will be on display during all home games. The team captains carried Hamm’s jersey to midfield for the coin toss.

“This game is something we needed,” Rocky Clark, the school’s superintendent told The Tulsa World with tears in his eyes. “It was something the community could rally around.”

Wesleyan Christian won 54-8 after trailing 8-0 to Welch.

In New Jersey, a vigil was held at Saturday evening at Warren Hills Regional for Murray, a three-sport athlete who was hit in the backfield during Friday night’s game against Summit. He was able to walk off the field under his own power but collapsed on the sideline shortly thereafter and was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy had been scheduled for Saturday.

“I’m not sure if it was that last hit on him that actually did the damage, or previous plays. I do know that he wasn’t feeling too good prior to the hit and seemed tired,” defensive end Bailey Lieberman told “He did take a pretty hard hit just before the last (hit), where he took a helmet to the stomach.”

Counselors were available Sunday to consult with students and others who needed assistance in making sense of the tragedy. Trying to figure out why is among the biggest challenges.

“There are going to be a lot of lot of questions about how and why and why him,” Sebren said” That is what you struggle with the most and not being able to grasp the the magnitude of the situation. A young man’s life was taken from us.”

RELATED: Tyrell Cameron remembered 

In Louisiana, where the mourning for Cameron continues, the team has been trying to “Do it for Tyrell” for three weeks. That goal has now been accomplished.

“You don’t want to trivialize his death by saying it’s about winning a football game” Sebren said. “Over the last weeks we needed something to lift our spirits and make it seem like what we are doing is worthwhile. I think winning helped us as a team and helped our mindset, but you don’t want to say winning makes it all right.

“We’ll never forget Tyrell, but it’s time to move on. As team, we had not done that. It’s one of those moments that you get, and I told them I was very humbled by the win.”

Cameron was on punt coverage when he was hit awkwardly. The final autopsy reports have not been released, but Sebren said Cameron suffered a spinal cord injury when he was hit.

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