East St. John in mourning

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2000

MIKE KIRAL and ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / August 19, 2000

LAPLACE – East St. John High School suffered a tragedy this week with thedeath of senior Rashad Williams.

Williams, a defensive lineman on the football team, died Thursday at 4:40 a.m. at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center. He had been in a coma at thehospital since last Friday, when he was pulled from a hotel swimming pool.

“He was a really good kid,” Debra Schum, principal of East St. John Highsaid. “He came from a good family, and he was just a good all-aroundperson.”Williams’ accident came at the close of East St. John High’s four-dayfootball camp in Thibodaux. The team had just returned from a morningpractice, according to reports, when he and a friend went into the hotel’s swimming pool.

According to friends Williams got into trouble in the water, and by the time he was rescued he was unconscious.

His teammates, football coach Ronnie Stephens said, are devastated.

“Rashad was a four-year player for us,” said Stephens. “He was a seniorand was one of our leaders. He was well-respected by the coaching staffand the team. It’s a great loss. This is something that our coaching staffand our team will not be getting over anytime soon, if we do get over it.”Since Williams was in such grave condition when school began this week, the school board brought in social workers, psychiatrists and other crises intervention professionals to work with the students and help them to cope.

Giselle Juneau, head of the crises intervention team, said the student body was informed of Williams’ death during first period Friday morning.

“The football team was our primary concern,” said Juneau. “They took thenews of Williams’ injury very hard last week.”But Juneau said the team seems to be doing well.

“I spoke with the coach Friday morning, and he said they were doing OK,” said Juneau. “They were all geared up and ready to play for Rashad.”Schum also said that Williams’ teammates have been very helpful around the school.

“The football team have been incredibly supportive, ” said Schum.

Stephens said the team has managed to stay focused on the season while grieving for their teammate.

“They’ve practiced all week,” Stephens said. “They did a good job againstHammond in the scrimmage Thursday. I’m proud of them and the coachingstaff for the way they have conducted themselves. It’s been hard oneverybody. We’ll try to keep busy and do the things Rashad’s family andhimself would have wanted us to do.”Stephens said the team will do something to honor Williams during the season. But first, he said, his team must get through Williams’ funeral.Services will be held Monday at Our Lady of Peach Church in Vacherie.

Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., with services beginning at 11a.m.Schum said East St. John High School has made arrangements fortransportation for the entire football team. The Williams family said theteam will have reserved seating in the church.

In addition, notes were sent home with the rest of the student body Friday telling parents students would be allowed to attend the service. However,parents and students will have to make their own arrangements for transportation to Vacherie.

And while East St. John High tries to cope with the loss of a classmateand friend, Juneau said the crises-intervention team will be on call for any student during the next week. Right now, they are allowing thestudents to grieve.

“What we want to do is give the students space to process the information,” said Juneau. “We are also there to give them accurateinformation, dispel rumors and answer questions. We want to assure themthat their feelings of grief and sadness are perfectly normal.”She went on, “At the same time we are assessing and observing all the students. We will be on the look-out for kids who are over-reacting orthose that just clam up. We can refer those kids to other professionalsfor psychological help.”Juneau said the Rev. Neil Bernard and the football team’s chaplain, HaroldKeller, will also be on the campus to help distraught students.

School system spokewoman Ann Laborde said Williams’ parents were very involved in the school, and his mother is a secretary at West St. John High. “He was a very popular kid,” said Laborde, “and his loss will really be felt at the school.”The Williams family informed Laborde they had made arrangements for all of Rashad’s organs to be donated.

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