Tuesday, October 14, 2014

James Eunice

I am posting this article in its entirety.

If I like an article, I normally just link it.  This time, I'm taking a different track.  The article is too important not to be preserved somewhere.

Not sure when the Athens Banner Herald gets rid of its old links, and they may even ask that I take this post down (which I will, if requested), but I didn't want to risk looking for it one day, and finding that the story is unavailable.  Such was the case when I tried to read a couple of old articles about James Eunice.  Both the Thomasville Times Enterprise and the Valdosta Daily Times had great stories about Eunice, but the links don't work any longer.

This 2011 article by Marc Weiszer gives insight into UGA, Coach Mark Richt, college athletics at its best, and life.  Great writing.  Great story.

Here it is:

Touching Tribute: Bulldogs continue to honor memory of James Eunice

Posted: Friday, September 16, 2011

For several anxious hours on Dec. 3, 2010, James Eunice checked and checked until he was finally able to log onto the University of Georgia website to view the answer he was hoping to find.
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He was accepted to the school for early admission.
“I want to try and walk on to the football team,” James later told his mother Tammy.
Eunice was a backup wide receiver at Valdosta High School who made his mark on special teams with the kickoff and punt return units.
Georgia was recruiting two of Eunice’s teammates who eventually signed with the Bulldogs — highly-recruited tight end Jay Rome and receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
One day, Valdosta coach Rance Gillespie called James out of class to come to his office.
Georgia coach Mark Richt was there on a visit.
James just happened to be wearing his favorite shirt that day — a Florida Gators’ T-shirt, of all things. He was still excited to meet Richt and phoned his father when he got out of school to describe the moment.
James Eunice never had the chance for that walk-on tryout at Georgia.
The 17-year-old drowned while duck hunting in January.
This past Thursday marked eight months since that tragic day.
Memories of James certainly live on for those who loved him, for the lives he touched and those that learned about him after his passing.
Word spread last winter about James’ funeral.
Rome and Mitchell spoke — Rome referred to James as “his brother from another mother”— and presented the Eunice family with a Georgia No. 23 jersey — James’ number at Valdosta High — that Richt had sent.
Eunice’s pastor read aloud a note written by Richt.
“Oh yeah, James made the team,” it said.
The entire Valdosta football team was there wearing their jerseys. The coaching staff served as pallbearers.
“I’ve been to a fair amount of funerals in my life and I’ve never seen a reaction from the crowd that that presentation got,” said his brother John, a former Valdosta City councilman now in his second year at the UGA law school. “There wasn’t a single person in there that wasn’t standing and applauding and just overcome with emotion. It was a unique moment that I know I’ll never forget.”
The gesture lifted the spirits of a community and family in mourning.
“I think about what if something were to happen to Jon or David?” Richt said recently of two of his sons. “Your heart goes out to them. If there’s something I can do to bless the family right this minute, however small, I’d like to do that, so that’s what we did.”
Take time to love someone. Today, Tomorrow, For the rest of your life. Because when that unexpected day comes that they pass on, you’ll be left wondering what you could’ve done better. How you could have made them feel more welcome, and show that you do care for them. Don’t wait until it’s too late like I did. Show the love that Jesus has for you to everyone you see. Let your heart break for what breaks His.
That’s how James Eunice began a note he posted on Facebook in April of last year that he titled “The Clock is Ticking” after the death of a schoolmate in an auto accident.
On the morning of Jan. 15 — a Saturday — James came into his parents’ bedroom before he left to go duck hunting to get some money to purchase shotgun shells.
“We told him we’d see him after lunch,” his father John said.
James, who also enjoyed turkey and deer hunting, went with his friend, Drew Pipkin, to Ocean Pond, about 30 minutes from Valdosta.
They took turns about every 20 minutes with one in the boat and the other in the water, Eunice’s father said.
James was in the boat, his father said, and went to reach for something that flew out. As he reached for it, his seat broke, which threw off his balance.
James got out of his waders and was away from the boat, but the water temperature was about 38 degrees.
“He just ran out of time,” said his father, a retired U.S. Air Force colonial. “He was a strong swimmer, but the hypothermia sets in within three to five minutes in those temperatures.”
For 17 days, search and rescue teams looked for James’ body before it was found 7 feet below the surface, according to a report in the Valdosta Daily Times.
Search teams from near Atlanta, South Georgia, Alabama and Florida attempted to find James.
“The communities and surrounding area came together,” his father said. “It was amazing to watch. People donated their lake homes across the highway for us to stay there while the search was going on. They donated them to the dive teams. ... The community just poured out to us.”
James Eunice was 17th in his Valdosta senior class, but his interests went well beyond his schoolwork.
He liked to play contemporary Christian, country and rock music on his guitar, sometimes while on Skype with his friends.
He laughed watching YouTube videos when Rome visited the Eunices about once a week to study and eat dinner. Rome loved the Mexican dip and a punch that included banana and ginger ale.
James also played outfielder for the Valdosta baseball team. His brother John remembers a 5-year-old James being the loudest person at Little League games cheering for his big brother.
“That never changed the older he got,” he said. “He wanted to be a friend for everybody. I can’t tell you the number of people that came up to me at the various things throughout high school and said James was the only person that would ever come and check to see how the day was going, check to see how I was doing. … He was everything you’d envision for a true friend and a brother to be.”
James was considering joining the ROTC program at Georgia, his brother said. His father was taught Air Force ROTC at Georgia when James was born in Athens.
He wasn’t a lock to make the football team as a walk-on, but he thought about trying to hook on as a student assistant and perhaps pursue coaching one day.
“In a lot of ways, he was just like a typical upcoming freshman in college,” his brother said. “He wasn’t sure exactly where his life path would take him, but he knew he wanted to play a role in helping other people and be an encouragement to others. His gift was dealing with people and talking with people so he wanted to have a lot of interaction with that.”
James was considering going into broadcast journalism, his father said.
Mitchell called him “a good person, always stayed in church. Prayed for the team.”
John Eunice calls his son a “devout, sold-out Christian. On his door at the mausoleum, we have ‘Faithful Follower of Christ.’ ”
James’ father and brother visited Richt’s new office in the Butts-Mehre building the week after James’ service to thank him for what he had done for their loved one. They spent about an hour with him, telling Richt more about the person that James was.
They presented Richt a T-shirt with “The Clock is Ticking” on the back, which was sold to help raise money for a scholarship fund.
“It’s helped define James and helped us keep his legacy going,” his father said.
Months later, Richt still had the T-shirt on his desk.
Richt told them he wanted to do something for the family.
A couple of weeks before the Sept. 10 South Carolina game, the Eunices received a package in the mail with tickets to sit in Richt’s box at the game and a note explaining how they would honor James at the game.
“I was kind of overcome with emotion,” said James’ brother. “It’s really kind of hard to put it into words how something like that means to us, considering that James was a great kid, but James was not a standout in football by any means.”
Georgia already had listed Eunice with his No. 23 on the Georgia roster.
“For his dream really to come true and for him to be on the roster really means a lot to all of us,” his brother said. “It means the world to us.”
Georgia players wore a black No. 23 decal on the back of their helmets with the initials “J.E.”
James’ parents, brother and sister Lindsey were guests of Richt and Georgia. The Eunices toured Butts-Mehre after the game and spoke with Richt, whose team had just lost by three points. He took pictures with them and again told him he was sorry about James.
Tammy Eunice wrote on Facebook after last weekend:
I am stunned and completely amazed at the kindness and generosity of Coach Mark Richt. …We felt he had done so much for us and honestly if that had not happened we would have understood. True to his word though, 2 weeks ago we got a package in the mail with tickets to sit in his box and a letter stating that he wanted to honor James with the number 23 on all the helmets. I was stunned! James was a young man who never practiced one time with the Bulldogs ... wasn’t being actively recruited by the Bulldogs . ..and was not promised a slot on the team. Did Coach Richt have to do this? Absolutely not. Did he do this to garner praise for himself? No way. The reason I believe he did this was again to honor the life of our boy.”
Eunice’s spirit will live on not only on the Georgia football team and those that knew him and loved him in Valdosta, but through money raised  in his name since the drowning.
About $20,000 came through private donations and the T-shirt sales for a scholarship fund, which supports graduating high school seniors from South Georgia high schools. There were six awarded this year.
Additional funds were raised — $148,000 — to purchase 24 dry suits, a dive boat, a motor, trailer and sonar and other equipment for the Lowndes County Sheriff’s dive team.
It was donated on June 16, James’ birthday.
“We understand God has a bigger purpose in all this,” his father said. “So we’re moving forward. That’s what James was all about. James invested in people, so we’re looking to invest in those same young men and women and tell James’ story every chance we get.”