Even in death, the assists keep coming

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2005

I helped to bury both my parents last year.

The emotion associated with that task numbs the mind.

You find your laughing one minute as you listen to someone share a funny story about one of your parents.

The next minute, you find yourself thumbing through a family photo album, taking a stroll back in time. You feel the tears building in your eyes, eventually feeling the effects of gravity as they roll down your cheeks.

Such is the case when you deal with grief. You hop aboard an emotional roller-coaster and hang on for the ride of your life.

Nothing I had previously felt or personally witnessed prepared me for this past Saturday. I joined two of my colleagues here at the News-Herald, Sports Editor Thadd White and Senior Sports Writer Billy Harrell, at the funeral of RonGina Wilder. The Hertford County High School junior basketball and softball standout succumbed on April 25 from the injuries sustained in an automobile accident three days earlier.

I’ve attended funerals for African-Americans in the past, the most recent of which was one honoring the life of Helene Knight, a longtime fellow co-worker who died last year following a brave fight against cancer. I know that African-Americans view funerals as a homegoing service, an event where heads are held high rather than dropped in sorrow.

At 12 noon on Saturday, April 30 in the gym of Hertford County High School, a revival was about to begin.

On the same court where Wilder had heard the cheers and earned the numerous accolades that highlighted her basketball career, approximately 1,500 people gathered to pay their final respects. Tears replaced the cheers, but RonGina, a young lady with enormous talent and energy both on an off the court, still knew how to draw a crowd.

One of the most touching moments came near the end of the near three-hour service. An alter call was issued to a throng of young people in attendance. A mass showing of fresh, young faces made their way to the makeshift stage near where RonGina’s casket was stationed. Some held hands; others found comfort in a warm embrace.

What made this a bit different from what we, as sporting enthusiasts, are accustomed to was the fact that female rivals on the court – RonGina’s HCHS teammates joined by athletes representing Bertie and Northampton-East – became as one.

Two young ladies, one adorned in HCHS gold and another in Bertie blue, lingered near the casket. They appeared frozen by the moment, each with their arms wrapped around the shoulders of the other. Tears poured down their faces.

A few moments later, one of the ministers helping to perform the service posed a question to the Wilder family. &uot;Why was RonGina taken so young? This is why. RonGina was ready, prepared to meet her maker. These young people apparently were not.&uot;

The biggest statistic of RonGina’s 17-year life here on Earth will not be remembered by all the points she scored, the free throws she nailed in the clutch or the steals she recorded on defense. She will be remembered for a hundred or so assists she etched in life’s scorebook on Saturday, leading the lost to get their lives straight with God.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to know this great young lady are truly blessed. Those who didn’t can all learn a valuable lesson on how to pattern one’s life.

RonGina, thank-you for leading by example. The next time I hear thunder, I’ll close my eyes and imagine it’s the sound of applause in heaven as you are credited with another assist.