A stadium’s worth of people filled Eastside High School’s auditorium last weekend — not to celebrate a winning game, but rather to celebrate the life of beloved football player Dabien White.
Near the front of the room, a glass box encapsulated a pristine jersey, which the adored athlete once wore.
In front of the jersey, about 30 members of the Eastside football team sat in a group together donning white and orange jerseys in honor of their teammate.
The football team made up only a small portion of about 300 mourners gathered at Eastside High School, located at 1201 SE 43rd St., Sept. 17 to remember the life of White, a 17-year-old offensive lineman at the school.
White was born on Jan. 17, 2005, and died in the early hours of Sept. 4. His obituary doesn’t mention a cause of death.
White’s coffin was surrounded by gold, red and black balloons, along with more balloons forming the number 55, the digits on White’s jersey.
Throughout the funeral service, members of the crowd grieved together — some embracing each other between sobs while others laid their heads in their hands.
As pallbearers carried White’s coffin out of the auditorium, some of his loved ones wept as they followed it out of the room.
Harold Hoskins, Eastside’s football coach, presented White’s encased jersey to his family at the service. He described White as a “joy to be around” who was cherished by his teammates.
“No way we can replace him,” Hoskins said. “We’ll honor him every day the way that we live. I talked to the boys about every day, every play, ‘We gonna dedicate the rest of this season to DaeDae.’”
White, nicknamed “DaeDae” by his loved ones, was remembered as a gentle giant in his obituary. The obituary describes football as his passion and notes the softness of his character.
“Dabien was strong but gentle, solid but fragile and very much a comedian in his eyes,” it read.
A slideshow at the funeral projected images from his life: photos as a player on the field and snapshots of a charming boy surrounded by the warmth of loved ones.
Some members of the crowd chuckled when more lighthearted moments from White’s life were displayed in the auditorium. One fond memory was a video that showed other children throwing White into a swimming pool.
Placed at the front of the venue was a cardboard cutout of White with angel wings, a tribute to a boy noted by his teammates for his kind companionship in life.
When a teammate presented a gift to White’s mother, she embraced him to the applause of the funeral’s attendees.
Jemall Dix, a 17-year-old Eastside senior and White’s teammate, described him as a friend who brought joy and as someone who he could confide in.
“You can talk to him about anything,” he said. “He likes to make jokes and stuff. He can make you laugh when you’re sad.”
Christopher Stokes, a bishop at the New Beginning Christian Worship Center located at 402 NW 6th Ave., asked White’s teammates to gather around him at the funeral to offer them words of comfort and encouragement.
“No matter what happens in terms of wins and losses on the field,” he said, “God told me to share with you that you’re all winners. God told me to share with you all — in spite of your current situation — that he loves you.”
He encouraged the boys to constantly seek to improve their lives in both their personal behavior and their academics. Enhancing their own lives, Stokes said, serves as a means for them to honor their friend after his death.
“Be better for DaeDae,” he said. “Play harder for DaeDae. Study harder for DaeDae. Lead for DaeDae. Be an example for DaeDae.”
Contact Omar at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @OAteyah.
Omar Ateyah is a third-year journalism student and the Alligator's Race and Equity reporter. He previously served as the Alligator's crime reporter and as a news assistant on the Metro Desk. He enjoys going on long, thoughtful walks.