ENGLEWOOD — Maybe it was the banana and chocolate chip pancakes Dawn Hinck made before his Pop Warner football games. Or it could have been the way he had to fight to get the As and Bs he needed so he’d be eligible to play on the Lemon Bay varsity football team. Or maybe it was that big smile that so many talked about. Family and friends gathered together Wednesday afternoon to remember Jerone Campbell’s “million-dollar smile.” They filled Lemon Bay High School’s Memorial Field to near capacity to celebrate the life of a football player, wrestler and high school junior who died Friday due to complications from a tonsillectomy. Nine speakers took to the podium to share their thoughts about Jerone and his sudden passing, while flanked by posters of him in his football uniform, featuring a logo designed by local artist Mary Kay Norus.
“I’m going to remember his million-dollar smile,” said speaker Tom Hinck, who coached Jerone during his Pop Warner football days with the Englewood Cats. He also recalled how Jerone would sleep over at the Hincks’ and polish off a plate of “Miss Dawn’s” special pancakes before a game.
Among Jerone’s teammates, who filled a third of the bleachers, was senior football player and wrestler Dale Hermann.
“I got to get a lot off my chest,” Dale said at the ceremony. “It was sad. It’s nice everybody came out. It showed a lot of respect for him.”
“I had great memories with him,” said Jimmy Connaghan, captain of the wrestling team and another fellow football player. “We needed to do this. I will be wrestling for him when we go to Palmetto Ridge High for a tournament.”
Billy Ruccatano, a football teammate, assisted with the ceremony.
“I’m glad everyone came out,” Billy said. “It showed how many people cared. Everyone who met him is different because of him.”
LBHS guidance counselor Dawn Bedford was another of the speakers to address the crowd.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to come together and touch on all aspects of his life,” she said. “I hope this helps his mom cope, with the whole community coming together and showing their support.”
Bedford worked with Jerone to set academic goals so he could get good grades and continue to be eligible for athletics. “We said we were going to get As and Bs, and that’s what he got.”
Jerone’s family members, lined up in a row of seats in front of the bleachers, indeed have felt the outpouring of support from the fallen athlete’s fellow Mantas and the community.
“It was amazing how this ceremony touched so many people who came to celebrate his life,” said Jerone’s stepbrother, Randy Wilson. “It (the stadium on Wednesday) was almost packed like a playoff game.”
“We’re all honoring Jerone,” said Lisa Vassallo, a booster mom with the Lemon Bay Touchdown Club. “I used to help feed Jerone and the team on Fridays before the games. I’m going to miss his smile.”