A beloved teammate scores his ‘last touchdown’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 29, 2008

FRANKLIN—On a warm, calm, April Friday night, hundreds of people of the Franklin community were assembled at the Armory Park football stadium to pay tribute to Josh Willis at a candlelight vigil.

Present on the field were past and present members of the Franklin High School Bronco football team and their coaches. In the stands were many of the fans that support the Broncos.

The scoreboard was on but it showed only 1s (Josh’s uniform number). But as the appointed time arrived, the Broncos marched across the field and took seats in the stands with the hundreds of people.

Strangely, on this occasion, there was no team on the opposite side of the field, no game officials and no bands. Very soon, Bronco head football coach Darren Parker and Franklin High School Assistant Principal Karl Robertson escorted Linda Willis and members of her family across the football field.

The hundreds of people present stood silently and then clapped their hands as they were seated in the bleachers. For this special occasion, everyone was on the home side in support of a family whose member, Joshua LarCurt Willis, had played many games on the football field and on the basketball court and who had recently been called from labor to rest.

Rose Parker, senior class sponsor at Franklin High School, convened the occasion and remarked that class president Mollie Blythe and vice-president Joseph Benn had come up with the idea of having a candlelight vigil to remember and honor the life of Josh Willis.

After a prayer by Blythe, head football coach Darren Parker came forth with touching words about Josh as a football player.

He told how during the Bronco’s first game of the season this past year that the Broncos were behind in the closing seconds of the game against Northampton County.

He called a timeout and called the team together. He added how Josh spoke up to give him the ball. And that they did. He watched as Josh dodged and ran by many of the opposing team to cross the goal line to give the Broncos the win.

Basketball coach Danny Dillon also added stories of Josh as to how on many occasions he knew that Josh was his son as he would always ask for money.

“When the Broncos would win, Josh took the credit but when we would lose, Josh would say it was my fault,” Dillon said, jokingly.

Also on the program were poems by Aisha Smith and Maurita Scott. Another poem written by Janice Holeman was read by Shantrice Wood. Joseph Benn read a poem written by Deshawnta Jones. Speaking on behalf of the senior class was Shevonda Ricks.

Halfway though the special service, all present participated in the candlelighting ceremony. Although the night had been calm up to that point.

Parker added that it was Josh behind the wind that suddenly appeared to add his touch to that part of the service. Kylee Ponder next sung the touching well known song “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Mrs. Parker read a series of teacher comments about Josh. Many of the teachers wrote of the growth and maturity of Josh during his years at Franklin High and that he was a friend to everyone. Of course, many added the humorous stories of his signature, “the hat”.

On behalf of the school board main office, Assistant Superintendent Walter Clemons gave remarks and did the closing prayer.

Afterwards, balloons were released in honor of Josh. Many hugs and words of comfort were given to Mrs. Willis and her family as they left the ceremony.

As the symbolic last horn sounded, I am sure that all would agree that No. 1 Josh Willis had scored his greatest and last touchdown and won the victory in the hearts of so many that he touched during his life.