A little over a month ago the Clarksburg community was rocked as news broke of the tragic loss of life in an automobile accident. Three members of the junior class, leaders on the football team had died, on the eve the school’s graduation. As the initial shock and horror of that night fades, the community is working to move forward while being sure to honor the lives which were cut short.
Through the phrase Clarksburg Strong, the community continues to honor the memory of 17-year-old Jacob Dennis, 19-year-old Patrick Shifflett, and 17-year-old Cary Greene, who died in the crash on Burnt Hill Road late on June 7.
Clarksburg Strong had been a phrase used to deal with the loss of 17-year-old John DiReggi, who died after being struck train accident in September 2015, but after the tragedy of last month the phrase has taken on more importance for the school and the community as a whole. All four boys were members of the Class of 2017 at Clarksburg High School.
“It is still difficult,” said Larry Hurd, Jr., Head Football Coach at Clarksburg High School. “The community is very strong together. We have worked hard to love each other through this. We lost three outstanding young men, and a fourth in September. We have all come together and are helping each other through this.”
“This is a tremendous loss for our community,” said Melissa Prather, who is a Clarksburg resident and part of the football team’s Mom Squad. Her son is a member of the team. “When a community goes through a great loss or tragedy such as ours has the phrase Clarksburg Strong reminds us that even in our deepest darkest moments we can gather and gain strength from sorrow. That a shared experience can help a community become strong.”
Prather has set up a GoFundme account to help the families of the boys that died on that dark road last month. “We had so many members of the community asking how they could make donations, both financial and philanthropic, and we are just a group of moms that have helped put together the food for the funeral receptions,” said Prather. She said the GoFundMe account was the next logical step. “While I was talking with individuals and businesses looking to help support these families with philanthropic gifts, and so with the consent of each family I started the GoFundMe account.”
To date, the GoFundMe account has raised more than $4,000 for the Dennis, Greene, and Shifflett families. On the GoFundMe page, Prather wrote, “Every dollar will be greatly appreciated by the families and will be used to help with funeral expenses and pay it forward to support other young people in our community.”
“Clarksburg Strong means we are all together in this process of grieving and honoring these young men together,” said Hurd. “It means we are staying strong within the community —staying strong as a group, and in our beliefs in honoring these young me. It may mean different things to different people, but just the fact we are staying strong together. We are loving each other through this. We are not afraid to tell each other that we love each other. An incident like this brings home the fact that life is short, and it can be taken from you at any time. It drives home the point that we have to love each other now.”
Hurd said that football team is staying strong and honoring their lost members at every off-season weight-training session and workout and the team will especially honor the boys each time the take the field this season.
“We have always had a tradition of raising four fingers to symbolize the fourth quarter and staying strong, many teams have done that,” said Hurd. “But this year, we are going to be taking the field with four fingers up to symbolize the four men we’ve lost. The thumb held inside meaning Clarksburg Strong, and the four fingers are meaning J-J-C-P – meaning John, Jacob, Cary, and Pat.”
“We are working out and lifting,” he said, “but at every step, we are honoring those guys – our football family members that have past. At the end of every training session, we make sure that we tell each other that we love each other. We make sure our guys know that (the coaches) love them, and they love each other. We are not ashamed to tell each other, to shake hands and tell each other how we feel about them. We feel in doing that we are honoring the memory of those guys we lost. They are going to be with us in everything we do.”
Prather said that Clarksburg Strong is something that has made its way down to even children that are not yet high school age. “Clarksburg Strong has grown to mean that this community has grown and is strong in ways than we ever could have imagined,” said Prather. “That being a part of this community means something greater than just living here and working here. It is bigger than that.”
One of the things that has caught on in the community were pins which, the Clarksburg Football Mom’s Squad had made for the players to wear the funerals for the three boys. Prather said, the pins have blue ribbons and blue beads. “It started as something special for the football team to wear, and soon everyone wanted one because they represented something bigger and had more meaning,” she said.
Prather was at her neighborhood pool in Clarksburg the day after the first funeral, and there was a group of 10 girls between the ages of eight and 12 making the pins. “These young girls all knew of the loss of these boys and the importance of remembering and honoring them,” said Prather. “Eight-year-old girls making pins so that members of our community can demonstrate their support for these families and our community. It was a great way for a young person, who maybe didn’t know about the accident and the deaths, but the pins allowed them to understand that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. That is Clarksburg Strong.”
“Clarksburg Strong may have been born out of tragic events,” said Hurd, “but Clarksburg Strong will stand the test of time because of who we are and what we believe, and what we are going to do, and how we are going to honor the young men that have passed on.”
Top: Clarksburg Strong has become both a rallying cry and community motto after four members of the Class of 2017 died. This was found placed on a cross near the site of the crash which took the lives of three young football players.
Next: A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the three families pay for expenses associated with funeral expenses.
Next: These pins were originally made for members of the football team to wear at the funerals, but became popular ways to members of the community to show their support and honor the boys. Photo courtesy Melissa Prather.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.