By Hugh G. Willett, knoxnews.com
LENOIR CITY - As hundreds of orange, white and black
balloons floated skyward Tuesday afternoon, friends, family and fellow
students said their final good-byes to Coty Bluford.
There were tears from many of the hundreds who came to the Lenoir City
High School football field for a final memorial service for the
14-year-old freshman athlete, who died tragically last week when he and
a classmate banged heads lunging for a pass during gym class.
Those who chose to speak shared fond remembrances of Coty, who played
basketball and football and was described as a model student.
They also shared hope for the future.
"Whenever he smiled you couldn't help but smile," recalled Coty's friend
and fellow athlete Daniel Denton.
Denton, 17, and other students have been collecting money for a memorial
to Coty that will include a brick placed in the courtyard of the high
Jamie Dewald, student pastor at First Baptist Church of Lenoir City,
remembered how Coty would always wave and say hello. "Even when he was
running down the basketball court during a game, he'd turn and wave."
Dewald urged students to accept the pain of the loss but also to
continue living their lives.
"It's OK to grieve. It's OK to be confused. But it's also OK to move
on," he explained.
"Take small steps each day to move on. Show up for your finals. Show up
for football practice," Dewald encouraged them.
The crowd, most wearing orange and black ribbons or carrying balloons,
included a wide range of Lenoir City residents, including some of the
firefighters and medics who responded to the emergency call at the
school last week.
"They're taking it like a family," schools Superintendent Wayne Miller
said. "Many of us know the entire family. It's a community loss."